This sounds like something from an episode of The Twilight Zone to me, but ABC News recently reported that schools all over the country (in nineteen states!) have added an annual weigh-in to their programs. Children will be weighed at school, and their BMIs will be measured. They will then be asked to take a letter home to their parents with the results.
This new trend is meant to help prevent childhood obesity, but obviously a simple number cannot determine a child’s (or anyone’s!) health. Although Dr. Lanre Omojokun Falusi of the American Academy of Pediatrics and her colleagues believe that “BMI readings are ‘the best means we have to determine whether a child's weight is healthy or unhealthy,’" it has proved to be an unreliable method time and again. Yes, some people are healthiest within the “healthy” BMI range, but many aren’t; everyone’s body has a different composition, and the system is not comprehensive enough to be inclusive.
It seems outrageous that schools would choose to put children through this weigh-in ordeal. Are they doctors?! No.
Although the testing may well be well-intentioned, the risks exceed any possible benefit. "For those [kids] who are already insecure about their weight, these tests can … potentially trigger an eating disorder,” says the National Eating Disorders Association’s Claire Mysko. Other experts are also in arms about the dangers of the weigh-ins. ABC reports that “more than 40 percent of 9- and 10-year-old girls have already been on a diet.” That doesn’t seem healthy to me!
Shannon Park, a mother of children who have participated in the weigh-ins, says it best: "Their bodies are changing … And then they get this number that says, 'Oh, you know, you're not the right number.' It's just a horrible way to start womanhood." EXACTLY. As a child, there’s really no way to predict the weight at which your own unique body will be happiest and healthiest, and to be told so young that your body doesn’t fit a certain mold is tragic.
The most important people to consult, I feel, are not the experts but the children themselves. Though they are young, it’s important that they have a degree of ownership of their own bodies; they should never be put through an experience that they hate. And they do hate the weigh-ins, according to 13-year-old student Zuzu Park-Stettner. Children are under so much pressure, especially at school, and bullying is a growing problem. Jane, Zuzu’s 9-year-old sister, foresees the possibility of such traumas: "If they knew how much you weighed and if it was a really high number, like 100 … it would cause bullying." The students call the BMI reports “fat letters.” Clearly, there is no way to take body-shaming out of the process; you can’t tell a young child that it’s just about “health.”
Even if the initiative is not meant to shame or to cause insecurity and bullying, it is unavoidable that the process would cause psychological damage. Kids go to school to learn the difference between right and wrong, between correct and incorrect. Two and two is four. Talking without raising your hand is bad. We learn intellectually and ethically how to think and how to behave. Incorporating weigh-in reports into schools, no matter how well-intentioned they might be, sends a very disturbing message: “Your body is either correct or incorrect. If it is incorrect, you will have to take a letter to your parents.” In adulthood, we have to deal with being cruelly and unfairly judged culturally, intellectually, and even morally based solely on our bodies. Childhood should be about exploring our bodies: playing, horsing around, and realizing that the vast diversity of body-types in this world is not wrong but beautiful.
What do you think? Would continuing these programs help the health of children? Or do you think, as I do, that the weigh-in process is ultimately degrading to these young kids, and that it could do more damage than good?
Thanks to ABC News
Images via Pennsbury School District and Greater Heights