Schools in North Andover, Massachusetts are now measuring students BMI (Body Mass Index) and sending letters home to the parents of students who are obese and those who are underweight. The focus in the news has been on the “fat letters” and the stories all just tag on about the underweight part at the end. I have some thoughts on this topic.
The biggest thing is that parents know if their kids are obese and kids know if they are obese. A letter being sent home is not going to fix this. I honestly do not have any experience with the underweight part – in my mind that might be a little harder to visually see since “thin is in” in our country. I am hoping some of you can comment on the underweight part below and that some of my fellow bloggers will address that part of the issue as well.
I have been overweight since elementary school. I knew it. My mom knew it. My dad knew it. We did not have letters sent home to tell us this. What I do remember is the dreaded couple of weeks where in gym class we had to do the Presidential Fitness Test. UGH! UGH! UGH! Now, it is not that I was not active at all as a child – I was. I took dance lessons, gymnastics, played softball, rode my bike all the time, took swimming lessons, and just was on the go a lot. However, that test sucked for not only me, but so many of my friends too. This continued all the way through high school and was worse every year! What impression it left on me is that it did not consider the emotions of the children and it did nothing to teach us about how to be healthy.
That is what needs to happen more than letters home. I think that schools can play a role in a healthier American population but it is about education and practicing what they preach. When my son was in elementary they did have “health class” every other week instead of gym class – they were trying. However, the meals served in the cafeteria, especially the optional menus, were not healthy enough. That is the first place to start – make the foods served at schools the kinds of food that health classes try to teach kids to select and eat. On top of lunch at school, there are the treats at school. School parties are filled with sugary snacks (yes I was a room mom and contributed to that myself). I’m not saying no sweet treats, but just one cupcake instead of a cupcake, 27 pieces of candy, fruit drinks, and more in one party. Even during school events like during testing weeks, school field days, etc. the kids are given candy as prizes and rewards. Why? Why do schools continue to say one thing but do another?
I am in know way saying that obese children are the fault of schools, but I am saying they aren’t helping. I compare this to recycling. When I was a kid there was really not very much said about recycling, preventing waste, upcycling, etc. and so as an adult it was not at the top of my mind either. However, in schools now they learn and practice recycling and being green daily and the kids get it. Then the kids bring that home and influence their parents and as they grow up it is just part of their life. Doing the same – learning and practicing – good nutrition and activity at school can lead to the same type of results I think.
As parents we ultimately need to take responsibility for our children’s health. Sadly I passed along many of my bad eating habits to my son. Even though I tried some, I was not following the same ideas that I was trying to get him to do. Now as I am working to get healthier I am finding there is so much to learn and it can be really confusing. Had I learned and practiced regularly as a child about health and nutrition it would have made a big difference.
So, instead of those letters stating the obvious schools need to focus on teaching and implementing healthy habits daily at school. Save the paper for something like a list of healthy choices the kids can post on the fridge at home.
What do you think about the fat letter idea?
© 2013, Robyn Wright. All rights reserved.