Report cards are adding a new dimension this fall in Massachusetts when public schools will begin sending reports home to parents. The reports will include alerts of too much or too little weight on their children, a main component of a campaign to combat childhood obesity.
Modeled after initiatives in Arkansas and New York City (the usual front-runners of setting trends in combating obesity), the screenings won unanimous approval earlier this month from the Massachusetts Public Health Council, which consists of an appointed board of doctors, academics, and service providers. It will be phased in over the next two school years and will be more than a standard report, providing recommendations and suggestions for parents. This is excellent – a very comprehensive strategy composed of more than just information, which was a problem with earlier attempts to heighten parent awareness of problems.
More than 286,000 students will undergo initial evaluation before the end of the 2010-2011 school year. Students in the first, fourth, seventh, and 10th grades will be measured and weighed to calculate the students’ BMI.
Most health professionals and medical associations were entirely supportive of the initiative, but others had their doubts, discussing the cost of another unfunded mandate and the line parents would walk between encouraging healthy eating and perhaps focusing too much on weight loss strategies. While we hope there will be a responsible balance, of course, the threat of obesity weighs so heavily that we wouldn’t like to think that too much focus on weight loss strategies is really a threat. (Clearly, this assumes those who are at normal weight would be counseled on healthy eating and exercise, but not on losing weight.)
Massachusett’s public health commissioner, John Auerbach, said he believes the financial cost to school districts will be nominal, in part because many were already weighing and measuring students annually.
"Right now, in many situations, the data from height and weight measurements sit in a file, and even if it's concerning, the parent may not find out," Auerbach said.
"This helps us make sure the most important person in that child's life finds out." Here, here …thank you Massachusetts, and bring this on in California and across the rest of the country!