Last week, many of you read this New York Post article about a 66-pound 3rd grader who was deemed overweight according to the FitnessGram that she received from her school. Please read EDIN's recommendations to our schools about this issue.
In the 2011-2012 school year, the Georgia Department of Education passed legislation that requires each local school district to conduct an annual fitness assessment program for all students in grades 1 to 12.(1) The assessments require teachers to measure students’ heights and weights for BMI calculations. It can be extremely stressful and even dangerous for students when the testing is not performed in a sensitive way. The focus on numbers can lead to self-consciousness, shameful feelings, and comparisons between students. These social comparisons have been shown to lead to lowered body image and self esteem. 2
It is extremely important that precautions are taken in order to safeguard students against these negative consequences. EDIN recommends that students be weighed in a private room, and not in front of other students. Ask them to turn backwards on the scale so they cannot see their weight. Do not comment on their weight, whether it is high or low. Even acknowledging a low weight in a positive way can send the wrong message. For example, a student may assume that he or she needs to stay at a low weight to be healthy or must continue to lose weight in order to receive “positive” comments.
When fitness reports are delivered, only parents or guardians should see them. Please include additional information in the reports, such as the attached letter to parents regarding Fitnessgram and recommendations to consult with a professional. Health professionals are trained to interpret BMI based on the child’s growth trend instead of looking at one weight measurement. Additionally, BMI and "growth charts are not intended to be used as a sole diagnostic instrument. Instead, growth charts are tools that contribute to forming an overall clinical impression for the child being measured."3
Parents and educators need to recognize that children grow at different rates and that this is normal, especially around puberty. Some children gain height first, and then weight. Others gain weight first, and then height. Boys and girls also grow at different rates at different times of life. Do not be alarmed if students gain weight first and then height-- this does not necessarily mean that they have bad eating habits. (See attached handout: Medical Reasons Why a Child Might Rapidly Gain Weight.) If students take good care of their bodies, they will grow into the exact size their body is meant to be. However, if they are faced with pressures to control their weight and body size, they may develop an unhealthy relationship with food, exercise, and their own bodies.
EDIN supports the Health at Every Size (HAES) campaign, which acknowledges that good health can be realized independent from considerations of size. It encourages people of all sizes to address health directly by adopting healthy behaviors. HAES accepts and respects the natural diversity of body shapes and sizes by teaching that anyone with healthy behaviors can be healthy, regardless of size. Providing this information to parents could prevent excessive concern about weight and unnecessary, harmful diets.
Please be sensitive to the feelings that fitness testing and “weight talk” may induce in students. It is not helpful, or even accurate, to base a child’s health status on a single number such as weight or BMI. Putting this pressure on students can make them feel self-conscious about their bodies and may lead to extreme behaviors or self-depreciating thoughts. This is the perfect set-up for eating disorders and other disordered eating habits.4 It is extremely important that students do not put too much stock in these numbers or measure their self-worth based on them.
1. Fitness Gram. http://www.fitnessgram.net/state-information/georgia. Accessed on 5/23/14.
2. Eyal, K., & Te’eni-Harari, T. (2013). Explaining the relationship between media exposure and early adolescents’ body image perceptions: The role of favorite characters. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, And Application, 25(3), 129-141. doi:10.1027/1864-1105/a000094
3. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/. Accessed on 5/23/14
4. Jerica M. Berge et al. Parent Conversations About Healthful Eating and WeightAssociations With Adolescent Disordered Eating BehaviorsParent Conversations About Eating and Weight. JAMA Pediatrics, 2013; 1 DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.78