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Our school district wants to weigh
children and send notes home to parents if their children are either
under or overweight. Do you think this is a good idea?
Many school and health departments are
being asked to document childhood obesity, in particular, and do
something to turn the alarming trend around. However, we have to
consider several issues to protect our children's mental and physical
- The stage of a child's pubertal
development will impact weight. So, for example, a child that is
farther along into puberty, will tend to weigh more than a child who
has not yet started puberty. Stage of puberty is best assessed by
the child's pediatrician.
- Genetics affects weight. There are
some people who are going to be "short," or
- Assess hunger. Children can be hungry
and be either over- or underweight. For children who appear
lethargic, or complain regularly of headaches or stomach aches, or
exhibit behavior problems, ask: are you hungry? Is there enough food
in the home to eat?
- Does your school provide a breakfast
and lunch program? Breakfast is critical for learning. Most schools
offer a free or reduced price lunch program, however breakfast
programs may not be in all schools. Summer feeding programs,
administered by the state department of health, are also critical in
providing much-needed nutrition for children living in
- The simple act of weighing a child who
is overweight and already self-conscious, will only add to their
discomfort. If the weighing is done in a public area, where children
are lined up and aware of other children's weight, there may well be
additional embarrassment, and emotional trauma.
- What will the impact of a letter home
be on the child? Chances are that parents are aware of their child's
size. Just ask any parent who has tried to go clothes shopping with
a child who does not fit the standard sizes. If a parent
receives a letter stating that their child is overweight, what will
happen? Will the parent feel that the child should be punished? Put
on a diet? Take a potentially dangerous weight loss supplement? Will
the parents feel like they have failed, or that their child is
inferior or a failure? These would be tragic consequences. Children
who are placed on restrictive diets are often denied nutrients
needed for growth and development.
- Obesity is a national problem. No
"one" is responsible. And as Surgeon General David Satcher
advised, it really "takes a village" to combat
- One of the most important factors
leading to the rise in obesity is our population's sedentary
lifestyle. The school or community health educator, and family
physician should assess media use (television viewing is directly
linked to obesity; the more we watch, the fatter we are). See the
American Academy of Pediatrics' web site: www.aap.org for their position
statement on television viewing, as well as their excellent
"Media Matters" tool kit which includes a media history
form. Why not start a school or community-wide campaign to turn off
the television, and enjoy physical activity as a family?
- Rather than single out overweight
children, how about offering nutrition information and suggested
fitness activities to every child?
- Assess physical education classes in
the school. Are they mandatory? Are they fun? Are they daily? Do
children have breaks in the day for physical activity? Are there
after school sporting activities for ALL children. Often teams are
limited in size. But what about the kids who are "cut"
from the teams? Are there recreation leagues as an alternative? Is
there transportation for children who want to stay after school for
a sport or planned recreation program?
- Assess recreation facilities in your
community. Are there safe neighborhoods, walking or biking trails?
Are school gymnasiums open after hours for family play?
- Assess the kinds of foods sold in
schools. Soft drinks, juice drinks that are less than 100% fruit
juice, snack cakes, chips, donuts, fast food--all are considered
high in calories, but low in nutrient density. In other words, they
deliver a lot of calories and not much else to support healthy
growth and development. Many schools depend on the sales of such
foods to raise money, but surely there are alternatives. As one
educator asked: "What is the cost of osteoporosis, or a root
canal?" We must consider the long term effects of such foods on
our children when consumed on a regular basis.
Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D., Former
Nutritional Sciences Specialist, University of Missouri-Columbia