As recently reported in The Boston Globe, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has proposed a far reaching anti-obesity campaign in an effort to reverse the trend of growing waistlines. The initiative includes a proposal to provide “BMI Report Cards” to Massachusetts school children. Under this plan, public schools would be required to measure the height and weight of 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th grade students and calculate their Body Mass Index (BMI) with this data to determine if a student is overweight. That information would be sent home with the student, along with detailed advice on proper nutrition and exercise.
According to a Future of Children article on the role of schools in obesity prevention, BMI Report Cards have shown some promise in school districts where they have been implemented, but they are not without controversy. In particular, if they are delivered in a vacuum without other environmental changes, they can be a wasted effort. Specifically, they must be part of a comprehensive approach that includes providing healthy food choices and eliminating junk food offerings in the schools, making health education part of the curriculum, providing quality physical education on a regular basis, and making time for recess.
These changes are not easy, as noted in our policy brief, “Fighting Obesity in the Public Schools.” But they must be part of the overall effort. Providing BMI Report cards while continuing to offer junk food in school or cutting recess and P.E. is not only counterintuitive, but potentially a waste of education dollars. In this time of drastic school budget cuts, we cannot afford to throw money at an effort that is unlikely to yield comprehensive benefits. Without a doubt, we need to address the issue of childhood obesity. But we need to do so holistically, realizing that providing information without a supportive environment in which to make needed changes is a waste of time and money.
For information on childhood obesity trends, see "Childhood Obesity: Trends and Potential Causes," Patricia Anderson and Kristen Butcher
For a comprehensive overview, see The Future of Children: Childhood Obesity