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Body Mass Index Testing in Schools

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When their turn comes, each student steps up to the scale and hopes that they won’t be the next to receive a “fat letter”. The P.E. teacher or nurse records their height and weight and it’s time to go back to class.

Body mass index (BMI) is a body composition using your height and weight. BMI testing in schools first started in 2003. The process was introduced as a way for kids and their parents to be informed about their health, diet and exercise habits.

According to the Guidelines for Growth Screening, students should be educated on the purpose of screening.

It also states that, “experts recommend that the children who are overweight, according to BMI for their age should be referred for an in depth medical assessment.”

These referrals are what some students know as “fat letters”. Though Park Hill South  doesn’t test BMI, the Park Hill School District used to in the Elementary Schools. In fact, body mass index testing is most commonly done in elementary schools.

Riley Nelson, freshman, said that, “Testing in elementary schools could single out kids who are still growing.”

Kids in elementary schools definitely have a lot of growing and developing ahead of them. Kathy Cole, South’s nurse, mentioned that the testing could have the same effects on self-esteem if it was done in older grade levels. After all, being told that you are or at risk of being overweight or underweight will never be a positive experience.

Cole said, however, that the goal of testing was to “try to help curb childhood obesity.”

However, Cole also said that athletes who are tested could have skewed results because of their muscle mass. One concern is that body mass index testing in schools could provoke eating disorders in kids and teens.

Caroline Stock, a freshman, said,” BMI testing is important but should be private. School is not where it should be done.”

Should body mass index testing be done by professionals instead of gym teachers? One reason people argue that it should be done by a doctor is because kids might take the results of the test more seriously.

Grant Mulligan, a fifth grader, said, ” I would rather it be done by a doctor because I feel like they are more trained at their job.”

The other side of body mass index testing is that it gives kids a chance to get on track with their eating and exercise habits. Also, some kids are interested in what their BMI is.

Nelson said that the tests seemed like a good way to inform kids, but she questioned the effects.

Nelson said, “ These tests could cause kids to feel bad about themselves. Some might go to extremes to fix their image.”

Even if schools do test student BMI a lot of students wouldn’t participate. Almost half of the parents who responded to a poll on said that they wouldn’t allow their kids to participate in the tests at school.

Obesity has become a problem in the United States, but the question is whether body mass index testing in schools is a proper way to solve it. After all, the “fat letters” will continue to be sent home with students until their exercise and eating habits improve.