Yeah, Schools Shouldn’t Be Sending Letters About Students’ Weight

FATletterI’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t think schools have any business informing parents that their children are overweight. Kristen Grasso, a mom in Naples, Fla., likely agrees with me, considering that she informed her local news station when her 5’5, 124 lb, 11-year-old daughter was sent home with a letter saying that she’s overweight.

I think it’s pretty clear that an 11-year-old who is 5’5 and 124 lbs isn’t overweight, but, regardless, Lily Grasso’s weight and Lily Grasso’s health and Lily Grasso’s body is an issue for Lily and her family, not the school system. Grasso says she received a letter saying that her daughter’s BMI classified her as overweight. She says,

“Her percentage falls in at risk and if you go to the Florida Department of Health’s website and you read it, it lists her as overweight. Lily is tall, athletic sold muscle, by no means is she overweight. Kids that see results of this test that may be classified as overweight, that aren’t, the self-esteem issues that they may get.”

I tend to agree, especially about the self-esteem issue…can you imagine being a tween girl who learns that her school (and school system!) has deemed her overweight? Ugh. Something about this practice, while I’m sure it’s rooted in a desire to make schools and students healthier, seems like it’s inherently problematic. Why and how are schools weighing children? Was Lily told her weight? Was it done in confidence? This practice raises so many questions for me, both about sensitivity and legality.

Grasso says that she was told her daughter would be screened for vision, hearing, growth and development and didn’t know weight would be involved; The Florida Health Department says the screenings are mandated by law and that parents can opt out if they want to. Fair enough, perhaps Grasso should have opted out for her daughter. But I’d be interested to be know how much of what would be involved in the health screenings was disclosed to students’ families; Is it possible to opt out only of the BMI portion or is consenting to it consenting to all of it?

In addition to the fact that the BMI formula is pretty much inherently flawed (and not applicable to every person), I really don’t think that schools should be policing the health (and weights) of their students. While I see the benefit of a school system getting involved with students’ health, especially in a country with a confirmed childhood obesity epidemic, I’ll never be convinced that schools should be involved in this specific way.

What do you think? Should schools be testing and disclosing students’ BMIs? Or do you think this practice is just a little bit inappropriate?

Photo: Shutterstock

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    • Klee

      While I totally agree with the mom, it’s just a little ironic, considering her name literally means fat in italian.

    • Mel

      How about sending closed envelopes home with every student disclosing all the information about the findings? That way no one feels singled out. I don’t think it’s a bad idea for a school to be involved with the physical well-being of their students, since many parents don’t care.

    • Kristen

      I am the mom, and my point in this whole issue is that the measurements were done by high school students, not qualified adults. Then the letters were then sent home with the kids. Every kid wants to see the results of their vision, hearing etc. the BMI is an inaccurate method of measurement. Kids in middle school are so vulnerable and why would anyone think sending home a child’s BMI could do any good. After 6th grade they don’t ever do the measurement again, so it’s not to monitor their health. Kids at this age are growing so fast and most kids get a little chubby before the get taller. I’m not concerned about Lily and lily and I have talked about the letter, I’m concerned for every child and if the state has to measure their “health & development” find an accurate way to do it!

    • Lilac

      I’m for this because it makes the parents take notice. My niece at 6 years old was 165 pounds. Her parents decided it would be best to ignore her weight and issues with there heads in the sand. Only after the school sent home a letter stating she was morbidly obese (which she was) and threatening to call CPS did my cousin and his wife do anything about it. They got her a full medical check up, got her into emotional therapy and started on a healthy diet. She has lost a great deal of the weight now and is a much more happy and well adjusted child.

      • warriorgoddess

        There are parents like your relatives with their heads in the sand and then there are parents who are already aware of the problem and are already taking the steps to help their child. What they do not need is more incompetence from the school, humiliation for their child and threats of CPS. Most schools are having a hard enough time providing minimum education, they don’t need to tack on something that they are not qualified for and not set up to handle as well.

        When this was brought up at my daughter’s school, I opted out for her and reminded her that if anyone tried to talk her into getting weighed or tried to force her to do so, she was to immediately call me and I would deal with them.

    • BFD

      I’m confused… are the measurements here correct? Because someone who is 5’5″ and 124 if NOT classified as overweight according to BMI – the calculator I used said BMI is around 20, which is in the “healthy” range.

      (Mentioned with the caveat that I agree BMI is a ridiculous measure of “health”).

      • Camilla

        The BMI standards for kids are different than those for adults

    • Cori

      Very strange. I’m 5’2″ and 125 and my doctor tells me I’m pretty much exactly where I should be. They’ve got to be factoring it on age, because that does not make sense. BMI isn’t the whole picture and there’s no way this girl looks overweight.

    • Jon King

      This mom overreacted. The vast majority of kids would be overweight and the letter can educate the parents. The obesity epidemic will cripple the country. Everyone knows BMI does not apply to athletes as they have muscle mass. Mom should have giggled at the letter and gone about her day.

    • Rose

      To be honest, I am a teenage girl who has participated in this process. It’s a hell of a lot worse than they can make it out to be. Personally, one of the finest moments involving this ordeal include the unsealed letter distribution. This time I recall clearly was in fifth grade. We were told to give these letters to our parents. Of course we knew our height, weight, and physical abilities had been measured, and that those things were recorded on this paper. Our teacher handed the letters to students, to pass out. Indeed, each new black and white sheet of statistics was peered at, and our “private” information soon became public to the entire class. One girl I recalled being 117 pounds, and several of the distributors snickered at the mere idea of it. Minutes later my friends asked me my BMI. I lied. I was in the “at risk of being overweight” section, and therefore I was too chubby to be liked.
      The fear of taking those tests echoed on. Self hatred pursues me everyday. Though my body has altered and slimmed down, I still feel the need to lie about my weight and convince my self and others I am “closer to a healthy weight” as those letters suggested. They burdened us “thicker” kids with those measurements each year, and they still do. I prayed the fat would disappear, or I would at least grow taller. In fact I remember going onto a “online BMI calculator” and setting it to a greater height than I was so I could feel a little bit normal.
      This year I shockingly still had to take the test during gym class, for no explained reason. My gym teacher told us to hop on the scale and then tell her so she could write it down, but it would be confidential. After weighing myself I paced around, so envious that my 98 pound friend had the confidence to waltz up to the teacher and inform her. Sadly, I had waited too long at that point and the males in my class had started to weigh themselves and record scores. I dreaded the idea of saying it out loud, especially now in front of these boys who do not understand how much girls weight normally. Finally I blurted out a response, my voice shaking. It is too bad I had to lie.
      In all honesty, these tests are what caused a fear of the scale and unnecessary hatred for body image in general. I was and will never be a string bean. I just wish those tests and letters that I had to shamefully present to my parents each year never existed. I’ve spent far too many hours trying diets and work outs that never quite, well, worked out.
      But what else can you expect, from a system so ignorant as a whole?