In what is sure to spark a heated debate, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a report championing schools who send "report cards" that notify parents if their child is overweight or obese,reported U.S. News on August 19. Their report is a boost for public schools who screen children's height and weight and then follow up with so-called "fat letters" to the parents of children whose weight misses the health mark.
Currently, about one-fourth of all states in the nation stipulate that schools must measure their students' weight and height. Almost all of those schools follow up with the "fat letters" as necessary. But although the American Academy of Pediatrics believes these letters are beneficial, opponents are concerned for three reasons:
Parental letters can backfire when it comes to how families handle the news. If parents single out one child in the family and deny the plump sibling to have treats while others indulgence, the stage is set for future problems such asbinging in secret, food addiction or even eating disorders.
Fit versus fat: Extremely muscular children could be categorized as overweight, say opponents, and such inaccurate measurement readings could cause athletic children to be put on unnecessary diets by well-meaning parents.
Bullying: If other children find out, the letters could lead to taunting on the playground, with cruel chants such as "Chubby, chubby, two-by-four!"
The screening are based on body mass index (BMI), a height to weight ratio designed to be used for screening. Both the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics advocate using the BMI results to check for obesity in children. Offering an impartial viewpoint: Naim Alkhouri, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children's.
"Some kids can have a high BMI and be metabolically healthy," Dr. Alkhouri says. "But there's no way to know unless you receive an assessment." And she emphasizes that the BMI results should be viewed as a "wake-up call" for health care providers as well as parents to evaluate whether the child's body weight is impacting their health.
"The growing number of children and adolescents seen daily in our clinics with weight management issues, decreased physical activity, and increasing screen time is alarming," asserted the American Academy of Pediatrics report's author, Michael Flaherty, a physician at the Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass. "Obesity is an epidemic in our country, and one that is compromising the health and life expectancy of our children." Therefore, he contends, "BMI screening letters are an additional awareness tool to promote conversations about healthy eating habits, exercise, and weight in the safety and confidential environment of the child's home."