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Parent to Parent: Measuring BMI at School

Published on: December 29, 2013

Kids get tested on reading, writing and arithmetic at school, but there's controversy around whether students' Body Mass Index (BMI) should be measured at school. Check out our video and story below and then let us know what do you think. Join our conversation here.

There's a big gap between what parents and medical professionals think is best. This fall, as part of their middle school PE/Health curriculum, Issaquah School District started measuring BMI. Then a couple of weeks ago, the district backed away after parents raised what the district describes as valid concerns, about privacy and self-esteem.

There are other school districts in our state that do BMI screenings, which is a calculation based on a child's height and weight, but it isn't mandated state-wide as it is in about 20 other states. Our state legislature would actually have to pass a bill to have it included in the health and fitness standards.

Many parents view their child's weight as personal information, certainly not be measured or shared with the school. On our Facebook page when we posed this question, parents overwhelmingly felt the discomfort and comparisons were unfair to subject kids to.

BMI's accuracy or true usefulness

BMI is very simple calculation, and critics say is that it's too simple, only factoring height and weight, and not factoring in what's fat and what's muscle.

Muscle is denser than fat so many pro athletes have high BMI numbers. Russell Wilson for instance is listed at 5'11", 206 pounds, which makes his BMI 28.7, that would put him in the overweight category.

Pediatricians will remind parents that the majority of kids who have BMIs in the overweight or obese range do not have the muscular body composition of pro athletes. Instead this is a really important indicator that families should be talking to their doctors about making lifestyle and dietary changes.

And in this state, schools can and do use discussions of BMI as teachable moments.

In fact, in a study just published last week in the medical journal Pediatrics, high BMI numbers in girls was linked to early onset puberty. And there are other health risks too of kids being overweight.

Physical education in schools

PE classes have changed, it's not dodgeball where you're creaming your classmates.

There is more emphasis on health education, cooperation and teamwork in physical activity, with the notion that kids who are not naturally the most athletic won't get turned off. Experts say that was a problem before.

The state mandates an average of 100 minutes a week for kids Kindergarten through 8th grade -- many PE teachers say they don't get anywhere near that time with the kids. So parents need to be involved in getting kids exercising or playing after school hours too.

Focus on childhood obesity

Obesity is still an epidemic but there have been several studies, including one published this fall, finding that obesity rates in adolescents could be stabilizing.

The authors of a study published in October in the journal Pediatrics looked at a representative sample of 35,000 students in the U.S. between 11 and 16 years old. The average Body Mass Index, or BMI percentile, stayed essentially the same between 2005 and 2009. That's a big change from earlier years when obesity rates just kept climbing.

Also, in the study, most adolescents exercised significantly more between 2001 - 2009. Now, they still fell far short of the recommended 60 minutes a day of physical activity, 7 days a week and there was too much screen time, but there are signs of improvement.

This is all especially important to think about this time of year as we get into the dark months when exercising outdoors may be less appealing.

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