Hidden Dangers of Using Weight Report Cards to Prevent Childhood Obesity

With back to school season just kicking off, it’s a good time to look at how your child’s school handles weight report cards and childhood obesity.

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That first report card is still several months off, but it you want to enact change in the school, the time to start is now. While some parents view the weight report cards as a great way to keep up with their child’s physical health, this practice of including your child’s weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) in their report card is not without several hidden dangers.

What are weight report cards?

Weight report cards aren’t exactly new. They started becoming a major trend in the States about two years ago, with more states adopting the practice with each passing school year. The method of delivering the weight report varies. Here in Pennsylvania, my son receives a separate paper in his report card twice a year. That paper tells me his height, weight and BMI. It also includes information about whether my son falls in the acceptable range.  In other states, the information may be right on the report card itself, making it part of your child’s permanent school record.

The pros of using weight report cards to prevent childhood obesity

Using weight report cards to prevent childhood obesity does have a few good points. For parents who are a little lax on ensuring their children eat a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise, a negative weight report card can serve as a reminder to be more alert. Childhood obesity is a problem. No one can deny that. One look at the chart below shows just how bad the problem is getting.

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With one in three kids suffering from childhood obesity, it seems like any idea to help prevent it is something most parents would be on board with. Weight report cards, however, may not be the right way to go.

Hidden Dangers of Weight Report Cards

How can a simple piece of paper telling you your child’s weight be dangerous? First let look at the BMI report itself and how it can be flawed.

  • BMI is a terrible judge of true physical condition. Do you know how BMI is calculated? It takes your height and weight, then using them in a complicated mathematical equation to arrive at a number. That number determines if you are overweight. The problem is, it doesn’t take anything else into account. Muscle weighs more than fat, for example, but there is no way to tell the BMI calculator which part of your body is made up primarily of muscle. Children (especially teens) who are incredible active in sports build up muscle. That muscle can tip the scales in the wrong direction, causing them to be labeled as overweight.
  • Too much room for human error. When you take little Tommy to a doctor, the staff looks up his records and pulls his chart. Aside from the very rare instance where the wrong chart is pulled, you can be pretty certain they have the right kid. When your child is one of hundreds-or even thousands-you have no way of knowing what method of charting the person running the weigh-in used. Have you ever entered the wrong information into a spread sheet? Written something down and superimposed the numbers? How do you know with certainty that your child’s information was recorded and calculated properly?
  • It doesn’t take health conditions into account. Again, BMI is just a calculation based on height and weight only. It doesn’t know if your child has a medical condition that causes him to suffer from childhood obesity. Or, on the flipside, a condition that causes her to be underweight! Simply put, the BMI calculator is based on very limited information that does not take anything into account except height and weight. Period. Childhood obesity cannot be boiled down to such simple calculations.

Let’s say, for arguments sake, that weight report cards are completely accurate and your child is shown to be suffering from childhood obesity. What harm can they possibly do in that case? More than you might think.

  • Use of precious school resources to state the obvious. Chances are if little Johnny is overweight, his parents are well aware of that fact. Schools are low on funds as it is. Why use precious funding to tell parents something they likely already know? Why not use that funding to prevent childhood obesity by getting healthier school lunches or for tools to teach kids about making healthy choices?
  • Presents a problem without a solution. Telling parents that their child is overweight and throwing out a few tips like “limit video game time” and “send kids outside to play,” doesn’t really provide a solution to childhood obesity. Kids are in school for about 8 hours a day when you factor in the bus ride. With very limited (or no) recess, they are active for maybe 15 minutes of that time. Factoring in two gym days of 30 minutes each, over the course of 5 days, kids have a grand total of 3 hours and 15 minutes of active time in a 40 hour school week. If schools really want to help prevent childhood obesity, sending home weight report cards doesn’t mean a thing if they aren’t willing to step up their own program and give kids a chance to be more active during school hours.
  • Increases the risk of bullying. Studies show that there is already a link between childhood obesity and bullying. Kids share report cards and compare grades. Especially those in middle and high school. Having your child’s weight front and center for her friends to see increases the risk of her being bullied, even if she isn’t technically overweight. Perhaps you’re thinking “fine, then she just doesn’t have to show anyone her report card,” it’s time to take a step back into your own school years. If everyone else is showing off their report cards and your child withholds hers, she’s basically telling her friends “there is something in here I don’t want you to see.” Do you remember how well that went over for you in school?

The bottom line is that while weight report cards are the result of good intentions, they just aren’t exactly the best use of school resources. They’re also not the best way to help prevent childhood obesity. In some cases, they can cause more harm than good. Schools need to reevaluate their role in preventing childhood obesity and come up with some actionable ways to get kids on a healthier track. Many parents will argue that it’s not up to the schools to keep our kids healthy. While that is true, schools do have a responsibility to provide a healthy environment. Throwing a badly calculated number onto a report card and saying “your child isn’t healthy” isn’t the way to go.

We welcome your comments, even if you completely  disagree with us!  After all, polite debate is one of the best way to come up with new ideas.  What do you think of weight report cards? Do you feel they are a good way to prevent childhood obesity? Can you think of any hidden dangers we may have missed?

 

15 thoughts on “Hidden Dangers of Using Weight Report Cards to Prevent Childhood Obesity”

  1. I hadn’t heard of this and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I do think its a good idea to try to inform parents somehow. I’ve heard parents say “the dr says he is 95th percentile but he’s just big!” when in reality he probably is a naturally big kid but is also likely overweight as well. I think when the information is only coming from one source its easier to dismiss or ignore. But I don’t think that uninformed parents are incredibly common – most parents have a good idea of how healthy their child is and don’t need a report card to tell them. And of those who are in denial and/or unaware, I would imagine that it would be rare that these weight report cards would truly help. I don’t know what the answer is.

    1. It’s a tough one. I don’t really even look at it for more than a cursory glance when it comes home with my son. I agree with you, for parents who are clueless or in denial, I don’t think hearing the school say “your child is overweight” would really sink in any better than a doctor saying it. Thanks for your comment!!

  2. My children’s health is between us & their doctor. I would be furious to have her weight called into question (and we have struggled with LOW weight for my daughter.) I am saying her because my boys aren’t in school yet. It also doesn’t account for the fact that many kids put on weight before a big growth spurt and/or puberty. I was chubby from 3rd-6th grade, then filled out/up. I still remember the humiliation of the fat calipers in PE which were all the rage in the 80’s. 🙁

  3. I didn’t even know that they did that! That’s crazy! I think that every kid should be individualized and not just categorized with the rest. That’s just my opinion. Thanks for sharing because I would have never known this!

  4. wow, glad to know that’s how school grading system works here in PA. I’m homeschooling my son to K curriculum and I wonder if they have the same grading system for us homeschoolers. I will check on this.

  5. I couldn’t agree more with this whole post. BMI is ridiculous. The whole report card concept for weight is ridiculous. If a child is overweight, obviously there is something that needs to change. Sending a paper home with a kid saying he’s overweight does nothing for the child or the parent.

  6. If your child has a weight problem, it would be better to help them learn to choose nutritious foods and get them active rather than teach the to obsess of the scale. While the scale is just a number, you don’t want to ruin their confidence levels. Even small changes help. Thank you for sharing.

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