Do schools’ BMI screenings of students even work?

(CNN)I remember opening the envelope holding my daughters’ report cards from their New York City elementary school a few years ago and stumbling upon a fitness report. The so-called “FITNESSGRAM” tallied my daughters’ height, weight and body mass index, or BMI. I had no idea we would get such a report or that my daughters were weighed at some point during the school year to come up with the measurements.

What I remember thinking back then was that I had hoped my children wouldn’t see the reports. They are only 8 and 9 now, and were even younger when we received those first letters. I wondered why they needed to have any sense of their weight or BMI at such a young age.

    Twenty-one states, including New York, require these BMI screenings or other weight-related assessment at schools, according to the State of Obesity annual report. But now a new study is raising questions on whether such screenings of students even work.



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    Kelli Arena, who’s three kids did not have BMI screenings in Houston, said she sees solid arguments for and against the assessment, but the only one that truly matters to her is whether it will work.

    “In my opinion, it won’t,” said Arena, a journalist and executive director of the Global Center for Journalism and Democracy at Sam Houston State University. “Let’s face it. Those parents know their kids are not at a healthy weight, and seeing a BMI on a report card won’t change habits. Will it lead to more exercise, or healthier eating at home? I’d bet money on ‘no.’ If they are not listening to their doctors or paying attention to news reports about the obesity epidemic, why would a number on a report card matter?”

    Laura Beyer, a mother of two grown children, also thinks BMI screenings won’t work.

    “The only way to fight obesity is to address unhealthy habits in that child’s home,” said Beyer, who blogs for her local newspaper in West Allis, Wisconsin. “I can guarantee that parents whose children’s BMI falls into the category of obesity aren’t losing sleep over it in the first place.”

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    Something needs to be done to tackle childhood obesity, but BMI screening, while well-intentioned, might not be the answer, parents and advocates for eating disorder awareness say.

    “Everyone (says) ‘Oh obesity, obesity, we have to do something about the obesity epidemic,’ and so it’s like throwing spaghetti at a wall without any evidence behind it and then you see that these programs are actually backfiring,” said Mysko, with the National Eating Disorders Association.

    “We have to be very careful that in our efforts to combat one so-called epidemic that we’re not adding fuel to the fire of another one.”

    Do you think BMI screenings should be conducted in schools? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter @kellywallacetv.

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