One School's Fight Against Obesity

assuras CBS

In its third report card on state efforts to control their children's weight, the University of Baltimore gave six states an "A."

New Jersey, which CBS News visited three years ago, managed a "B." This week CBS Evening News Saturday anchor Thalia Assuras returned to take a look at one school's progress.

When we first met Nurse Noreen Scully at Long Pond Middle School in New Jersey back in 2004, she was busy keeping tabs on the height and weight of 430 students, and using those numbers to calculate their BMI, or body mass index, the gauge of total body fat.

Whenever a student's BMI went above what's considered a healthy level, Scully sent home a special health referral — a "health report card" to their parents.

"We give them the child's height and weight, we give them their body mass index, and then we tell them what the averages are."

Three years later, we found her still busy getting those measurements as mandated by state law. New Jersey is one of eight states that require schools to send parents BMI report cards. At Long Pond, Scully has seen a positive trend.

"We've seen, statistically, less children being referred, so hopefully it is making an impact — sending those referral letters — and also educating them about good nutrition and appropriate exercise for children," said Scully.

But despite this school's success in fighting fat, and nationwide attention to the problem of obesity, most of America's children are still losing the battle of the bulge. The Institute of Medicine says the obesity rate in children and teenagers is up from 16 percent to 17.1 percent over the past two years, and could rise to 20 percent by the end of the decade.

That's a red flag for many parents — including some, such as Michelle Enders, who were apprehensive when their kids first came home with a BMI report card.

"Initially my first reaction was, I think, what every parent feels, and that's 'What are they saying?'"

Enders' daughter got BMI report cards in the 2nd and 4th grades. Her unease was soon replaced by concern for her daughter's health.

"If a parent is told something negative about their child it's not received well — even if it's true, it's not received well. But if you kind of set those issues aside and look at it as a health standpoint, then you're making a choice for your child," she said.

She has replaced juices high in sugar with low calorie drinks, helping her daughter get back to a healthy weight.

In addition to the BMI letter, school cafeterias in New Jersey cannot serve food of little nutritional value such as junk food, candy, and soft drinks. Snacks with more than 8 grams of fat are also out. Exercise is also part of the nutritional policy, even given as homework.

While most of the country is failing the grade on obesity, Nurse Scully says Long Pond students are getting the message.

"We're trying to have children that have life-long skills, life-long healthy skills. We don't want this generation to be the first generation that has a shorter life expectancy than their parents do," she said.

But not every state has embraced the BMI report card. In Texas legislation stalled when critics argued schools should focus on education, not eating habits. And in Georgia the proposal was dropped due to concerns over potential harm to students' self esteem.
  • Amy Clark

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