Two lawmakers in Massachusetts are fighting to reverse a 2009 legislative initiative mandating body mass index (BMI) screenings in public schools in order to end the practice of “fat letters” being sent to the homes of overweight or obese children.
The BMI notification letters, which are sent to all families with children in the Massachusetts public school system, note that the measurement on the page “may not tell the whole story about your child’s weight,” as BMI “cannot tell the difference between muscle and fat.”
Many parents have complained, the North Andover Patch reports, telling officials that the letters amount to government interference in parenting and invasion of privacy.
“I have come across many parents whose children are perfectly fit, healthy and active in sports, but muscular in build and are reporting that they’ve received letters stating their child is obese or at risk for obesity,” Bridget Martin told North Andover Patch. “Some of these children laughed at these letters stating that they are obese because they know it is ridiculous, while others become upset, depressed and ashamed, even though they are far from obese.”
Although the the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Guidelines for BMI Screening caution that screening results should be ” mailed or otherwise directly communicated to the parents and guardians, and not sent home with the student” in order to “avoid stigmatization of any student and protect the confidentiality of individual screening results,” critics argue that children will still find out and be negatively affected by their classification.
Massachusetts State Rep. Jim Lyons and State Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives have filed legislation to stop the “fat letters.”
“I think [the BMI letters] are an overreaching by the Department of Public Health,” Lyons told the New York Daily News. “I’ve had numerous complaints from parents considering the impact it has on children being ostracized for being too thin or too fat. Parents are really concerned.”
“It’s an example of an unfunded mandate that results in additional administrative cost, but I think also has the potential to do harm to a child’s self-esteem,” O’Connor Ives agreed. “I think that there are tools that schools can use independently to inform parents about that [childhood obesity] being a public health issue for children without targeting individual children and putting them into these categories, whether they are underweight or overweight.”