I can't imagine how I would feel if my children's school sent them home with a note that said they were fat, especially if they were not. But that is exactly what happened to at least one parent in New York City as a result of the NYC Fitnessgram initiative. The program updates moms and dads as to their kid's BMI and, until recently, designated some as "obese" and "overweight."
A more updated version of the report uses language like "healthy fitness zone" and "needs improvement" after the New York Post revealed a Staten Island girl named Gwendolyn Williams received misleading information about her weight. The report called her "overweight" despite the fact she's very thin, and weighs just one pound more than her "ideal weight."
The goal of the initiative was to encourage overweight children to lose weight, not to single out kids who are healthy and make them think otherwise. But a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found it's not even moving the needle for kids who truly need to shed pounds. In fact, kids who were deemed overweight didn't lose weight after seeing their results; girls over the healthy threshold tended to gain weight.
Explains Syracuse professor Amy Ellen Schwartz, "It's not enough just to get the information out there. You have to get it to people in a way that's actionable."
Gwendolyn's mom agrees, saying, "Our children deserve better. If they are truly concerned with the health of their students, they will carve out more time for real recess, not 15 minutes of structured play in which they can't run or kick a ball too hard. There have been numerous studies proving that kids learn better when they're allowed to blow off steam in the playground."
She urges other parents to opt out of the program.
If my children's school decided to launch a similar initiative, I would definitely heed this mom's advice. While school is where kids spend a bulk of their time, healthy eating habits start at home. I don't need the school telling me how to feed my family, nor would I want their report to make my daughters feel badly about themselves by calling them fat! I agree actions speak louder than words in this case.
What's your take?
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.