The Recorder - My Turn: School body mass index reports do more harm than good

Posted: 02/21/2022 18:48:22 Modified: 02/21/2022 18:48:03 Massachusetts schools use body mass index (BMI) to monitor student health...

Posted: 02/21/2022 18:48:22

Modified: 02/21/2022 18:48:03

Massachusetts schools use body mass index (BMI) to monitor student health. In 2009, the Massachusetts Board of Public Health unanimously passed regulations for BMI screenings in schools in an effort to reduce childhood obesity. Beginning with the 2010-2011 school year, all public schools in Massachusetts were required to conduct screenings in grades 1, 4, 7, and 10 and notify parents/guardians of the results.

Prior to working in school counseling and researching child development and mental health as part of my Masters of Social Work program, I had no problem with this practice. Why wouldn’t I want children to lead healthy lives? I can now look back and see how wrong my assumptions were. Research in a variety of fields, including medicine, psychology, and history, reveals what scholars and activists call the deep-rooted fatphobia in American culture.

Although many states practice BMI reporting, it has not been shown to be effective in reducing pediatric obesity. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “little is known about the outcomes of BMI measurement programs, including the effects on weight-related knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of young people and of their families. As a result, no consensus exists on the usefulness of BMI screening programs for young people.

Instead, reporting has been shown to increase harmful outcomes such as eating disorders and negative peer weight discussions. In 2014, several organizations, including EDC (Eating Disorder Coalition), AED (Academy of Eating Disorders), BEDA (Binge Eating Disorder Association) and STRIPED (Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders) published statements strongly opposing testing due to the level of harm they risk. Research suggests that BMI screening at school may additionally increase adolescent diet, which research unexpectedly finds to be a risk factor for both weight gain and disorders nutrition in young people.

If Massachusetts cares about the health and well-being of its students, evidence-based practices should be implemented in schools, rather than programs that are not supported by research. This includes addressing systemic issues such as food insecurity, income inequality, and lack of equal access to health care services. The system that prioritizes weight loss over actual health is fatphobic.

In contrast, schools should take a size-all approach to health, which will promote healthy lifestyles without impacting weight. This can be done by implementing wellness programs that promote body satisfaction, improve self-esteem, and respect diversity in body size.

Hanna Vaughn lives in Shutesbury and is a graduate student at Boston University’s School of Social Work.

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Newsrust - US Top News: The Recorder - My Turn: School body mass index reports do more harm than good
The Recorder - My Turn: School body mass index reports do more harm than good
Newsrust - US Top News
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