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Top Talker: Is THIS Girl Overweight?

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Stephen Yang

Top Talker:
Is THIS Girl Overweight?

Does this girl look overweight to you? According to the New York City Department of Education, she is.

Laura Williams’ 9-year-old daughter, Gwendolyn, was sent home with a Fitnessgram, which stated that at 4’ 1” and 66 pounds, she is overweight. She is one pound over the “healthy weight” category and with a body mass index of 19, she is, thus, overweight.

The Fitnessgrams were handed out to students at school and they were told not to open them. Of course, many children opened them anyway—Gwendolyn was one of them—and were devastated to learn that they are considered fat.

Williams said that her daughter came home, started jiggling her thighs and said, “Hey, Mom. The school told me I’m overweight. Is this what they mean?” She voiced her anger and frustration on Facebook, posting this status update:

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Williams says she is also concerned about what these kinds of letters do to the self-esteem of children who don’t enjoy the same support that Gwendolyn is getting at home. She visited the school principal last week and said that she is sympathetic, but that kids were not supposed to open the letter. The principal also said next year, they will consider sending Fitnessgrams home in a sealed envelope with report cards.

Related: The GEM Debate: Will THIS Help Childhood Obesity?

The BMI calculation is not the best way to measure a person’s level of fitness or fatness. It makes no allowance for proportions of bone, fat, and muscle in the body. If you care to learn more about that, you can read it here and here.

If schools are going to send Fitnessgrams home, they should probably mail them to the parents instead of handing them out to kids and saying, “Don’t look.” That’s practically an invitation to look. Although the information can be somewhat valuable, I have a problem with schools getting involved in it. There is no personalization that helps parents understand what those numbers mean for their child.

I especially have a problem with schools sending Fitnessgrams home without doing their own due diligence to ensure that kids are healthy. Did they eliminate or reduce gym classes and recess? Do they serve fat and sugar-laden breakfasts and lunches? Do they have vending machines full of high-sugar soft drinks and snacks? Do they celebrate everything with cupcakes?

Related: The GEM Debate: Is BMI, TMI For Kids At School?

I don’t know if this is what happens in Gwendolyn Williams’s school, but many schools do these things and so they are complicit in the problem of childhood obesity. It’s quite possible that parents are doing what they can at home for their children’s health, only to have their hard work undone at school.

I can understand that the intent of schools sending home fitness reports is to inform parents about health problems. However, that job is best left to pediatricians. Doctors can provide context. They can help parents understand the limitations and benefits of BMI calculations. They can suggest food and lifestyle changes that are useful and practical for each family. They can customize the conversation to each child, and that’s the missing piece of schools sending home Fitnessgrams.

Related:The GEM Debate: Was The State Right To Take An Obese Child From His Mother?

What do you think about schools sending home fitness reports? Share your thoughts below.

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