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An 'F' For Fat?

This column was written by Meredith Stoffel of
If a bill now before the New York legislature becomes law, students will be graded on something new come report card time -- their size. Odd as it may sound, the bill proposes to include a child's weight and body mass index (BMI) in their report cards to parents, along with their grades.

One would think that kids have enough to worry with their academics, without being graded on weight, too. Isn't this taking the whole fitness thing a bit far?

It always used to bother me when other kids would ask what grades I received on my report card. Can you imagine if we started including weight? "I have a BMI of 22, what's yours?"

A little ridiculous, I would say.

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Yes, childhood obesity is reaching epidemic proportions. The number of children and adolescents considered to be overweight is estimated at nine million, three times greater than it was in 1980. Obviously, educators can't ignore this problem.

Overweight children are more likely to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure, both risk factors for heart disease. Diabetes is more prevalent in children who are overweight and studies have shown that overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults.

But what good is "grading" kids on their weight going to do? Kids aren't stupid. If they are heavier than other kids in their class, they will know it. And so will their parents.

Doctors have emphasized that in order to have healthier kids, parents need to become involved. Kids aren't the ones driving themselves to fast food restaurants and they are not the ones buying the junk food at the store. They're kids and they need guidance.

But that is just it -- they are kids. And it seems to me that grading kids on body weight is more problem than solution.

"Kids who are overweight have great difficulties with self esteem," says Dr. Adelaide Robb, medical director of inpatient psychiatry at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. "Shaming kids by telling them they are fat is no good."

Last year, Arkansas implemented a similar law. When parents expressed opposition to having such information released on a report card, it was decided that BMI results would be mailed home separately.

Maybe it would be a better idea if educators and politicians spent more time figuring out how to have kids do more physical education. To be fair, Felix Ortiz, the assemblyman who proposed the bill to include health reports has also introduced a bill to increase physical education in New York schools. They should stick to that.

According to The National Association for Sport and Physical Education, Illinois is currently the only state that mandates daily physical education K-12. Alabama requires it for grades K-8. This is something schools and states really can fix.

But what bothers me most about grading body types is the example it sets. I have heard my 6-year-old niece mention on more than one occasion that she thinks she is fat. She is only in the first grade. Makes you think twice about grading fat.

Children have plenty of insecurities to deal with. At some point most children think they are not as attractive or as smart as their peers. As a college junior, it was not that long ago that I was just a kid. I know what it is like to feel those insecurities. From as young as the age of eight, I remember thinking that I needed to eat less and watch everything I ate. By the time fourth grade rolled around I remember measuring out portion sizes. That's not being a kid.

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia do not just appear on their own, and although they affect less than one percent of children, they are a problem. I know several people who are dealing with these issues, all which stem from adolescence.

What about those children who will switch their eating patterns, for the worse, if they are told or believe they are overweight?

Girls especially get enough of these kinds of messages from pop culture without having them reinforced in their report cards. And giving school children new, formal ways to compare themselves is not a common sense approach to childhood obesity.

Some children are overweight simply because they do not eat right or are not active enough, while others have legitimate medical reasons that make them overweight. Unfortunately, there are no drugs approved by the FDA to safely combat childhood obesity.

Pitting kids against one another by labeling and grading them is not going to help. Perhaps there should be more of an effort to teach kids about the dangers of being unhealthy, rather than just pointing out that they are.

Meredith Stoffel is a junior at Boston College.

By Meredith Stoffel

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