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Desperate Times, Desperate Measures: Schools Tell Parents Their Kids are Too Heavy—But Should They?

Posted Dec 18 2008 8:11pm

You're getting the following item from my blogging assistant Jennifer Moore. (I'm simply too busy today to post something myself.)

The New York Times ran an article about school districts that send to parents “obesity report cards” stating their child’s body mass index in a well-meaning attempt to get parents to wake up to the dangers of childhood obesity.

Since I’m a parent, I began this article with a great deal of sympathy toward those who were angry and confused about these BMI reports. Some parents said these report cards caused their kids to obsess over food, even when their BMIs fell within normal range.

Then the eye-opening article by Times reporter Jodi Kantor rightly points out the utter ridiculousness of telling parents that their kids are fat or at risk of being so, while still plying them with sugary, high-calorie junk like funnel cake and Rice Krispie treats at school.

What’s more, the schools should have been smart enough to mail their BMI figures directly to the parents rather than giving them to the children along with their academic report cards. (The story of a 6-year-old so distressed that she’s basically put herself on a diet, despite the fact that her BMI score showed that her weight was fine, is heartbreaking.)

I am particularly sensitive to this issue as a mother to a daughter. The last thing I want is for her to think she’s not beautiful or worthy or special because she doesn’t wear a size 0 like models and movie stars.

But then, this quote from Holly Berguson, the homecoming queen at North Penn Junior-Senior High School [in north central Pennsylvania], hit me like a ton of bricks. Holly wears a size 20, a fact cited by her many admirers as proof of this community’s generous attitude toward weight and its proud indifference to the “Baywatch” bodies on television.

“I don’t care how big I am,” said Holly, 17, who is insulin resistant, a condition that often precedes Type 2 diabetes.

“It’s not what you look like, it’s who you are.”

I think this society focuses way, way too much on appearance, particularly for girls and women. And I certainly don’t want Holly Berguson or any other overweight child to feel bad about herself because of her weight.

But if this girl truly loved herself as she wants us to think, she would care about how big she is, because she’s well on her way to developing diabetes at the tender age of 17, likely due to the fact that she’s too heavy.

Showing “indifference to the ‘Baywatch’ bodies on television” is one thing. Showing indifference to possibly contracting an incurable, potentially crippling and life-threatening disease is quite another.

If BMI report cards sound the alarm for the parents of one kid like Holly Berguson, maybe the confusion and embarrassment will be well worth it. I don’t want any child’s self-esteem to suffer. But I don’t want there to be any more insulin-resistant teenagers, either.

Jennifer Moore

Note from Connie: This Times article from is a must read. have mixed feelings about BMI reports being given to parents or even their kids. Isn't it obvious if a kid is overweight? You certainly don't need to measure them to find that out! It also can be quite humiliating for a poor kid, and it sure sounds like these "report cards" are sending some kids into eating-disorder danger.

Frankly, I think that rather than embarrassing these kids and their parents with confusing BMI scores, it's best to:

  • Feed them better -- at home and at school. Get rid of that sugary, fatty junk!
  • Educate them! (Get some good teachers and bring in some knowledgeable experts. (Hey, I'll volunteer to go into schools to tell them about the tragedies that await them if they keep eating all that junk food.)

Read this fascinating article now.

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