It has been widely reported that a mother is outraged after receiving a note from her school claiming that her healthy, sporty, five-year-old daughter is overweight and at risk of heart disease and cancer. The girl is 1% outside the healthy category based on her body mass index. Her mother Susan, 38, said no child of that age should be thinking about their weight or worrying about their appearance. She is wrong.
Several states now send home "weight report cards" to parents. The school reports the child's body mass index and informs parents if their child is considered underweight, normal-weight, overweight or obese. The note home also includes nutritional tips and guidelines. Yet parents around the country are fuming! Should schools get involved in this arena? Is it appropriate for a parent to receive such a letter?
In my opinion, the answer is yes!
Quite honestly, I don't understand what all the uproar is about. The information is completely confidential and parents can do with it what they please.
Studies show that the majority of parents of overweight children fail to recognize that their kids are overweight. And if they don't realize that their children are at medical risk due to their weight, they will not take the appropriate steps to help them.
A 2007 study from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital found that only 13 percent of parents with obese children ages 6 to 11 rated their child as being very overweight, compared with 31 percent of parents with obese children ages 12 to 17. And, less than 10 percent of parents with obese children ages 6 to 11 said they were "very concerned" about their child's weight.
One out of every three children in this country is overweight and at risk for medical disease. Our children are developing medical conditions that used to be seen solely in adults. And according to the CDC, this generation of children will be the first to die younger than its parents. We clearly need to do something to help these overweight children.
Some parents are concerned about the cost of such a program. School budgets are already stretched thin. Parents are complaining that this program is simply an unnecessary expense.
Schools have always mandated that doctors send them information on each student's height and weight. So they have had this information but have not done anything with it! The only change is informing the parents of the results. The cost of this program is truly nominal!
Eating disorder activists worry that this program will cause overweight children to develop disordered eating. But studies show that if you treat an overweight child in a sensitive manner and give them the necessary tools to lose weight, you actually decrease the incidence of disordered eating. These children are at a much higher risk of medical disease from being overweight than they are of developing an eating disorder. The key is to handle the situation appropriately. That is why schools are not giving the information directly to the child. Nobody is telling a student that he/she is overweight. The school is simply giving the parents the information along with some nutritional guidelines. It is then up to the parent to handle the situation appropriately.
We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic that is shortening the life span of our children. As a society, we need to do everything we can to help the each child of the next generation live as long and as healthy a life as possible. I believe that informing parents, who may be unaware, that their children are overweight will help. When it comes to a child's health, ignorance is definitely not bliss!
Follow Joanna Dolgoff, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joannadolgoffmd