MPHA in the News: Beacon Hill Weighs Public Opinion on Student “Fat Letters” (CBS Boston)


By Paul Burton

September 10, 2013

BOSTON (CBS) – Kids are back in school and right now for some students, grades are not their biggest concern. Many are stressing about a different scholastic measurement called Body Mass Index or BMI report. The state is sending out letters that inform parents of their child’s Body Mass Index.However, many kids are calling these reports “fat letters.”

And now, there’s a proposal on Beacon Hill to eliminate them.

State Rep. Jim Lyons introduced the legislation on behalf of some families who say these letters are harmful.

During a State House public hearing on Thursday, parents voiced their concerns about the BMI letters saying it intrudes on children’s privacy and can lead to poor self-esteem.

“There’s much more harm coming from these letters than good,” said Tracy Watson, the mother of a 10-year-old boy who received one of these letters from the Department of Public Health that labeled her son as obese. “The letter stated that he was obese and I needed to contact my doctor.”

“They are like I got this obese letter or I got an anorexic letter so I am going to eat more or less,” Watson’s son Cameron said.

Cameron says he tore up his letter, but he still felt the need to attend the public hearing.

“I don’t want my friends to get hurt or other don’t have to go through it like me.”

Tracy Watson is among those advocating to discontinue the so-called “fat” letters.

“He’s healthy, he’s active, he’s healthy,” Watson said about her son, Cameron Watson, who weighs 97 lbs., plays football and wrestles. “It’s a flawed measurement system.”

Lyons also believes the letters are unhelpful and a waste of taxpayers dollars.

“The unintended consequences are having a negative impact on our children so our goal to have the Department of Public Health change their policies and eliminate these letters because they are hurting our children,” Rep Lyons said. “Parents know whether their kids are skinny or fat. We really don’t need the government coming in to tell us that.”

But health officials say the reports are the best way to know whether a child’s weight is healthy or unhealthy.

“By calling them ‘fat letters’ we are missing the entire effort to try to decrease the stigma of overweight and obesity and to encourage children to lead healthy life styles,” Dr. Michael Flaherty of Baystate Medical Center said.

Advocates from the Massachusetts Public Health Association say the data  collection on BMI is incredibly important for fighting against childhood obesity.

“As we develop strategies to combat childhood obesity, we need to know if they are successful,” PHA member Maddie Ribble said.

Health officials say 30 percent of kids in Massachusetts are overweight or obese which is why they are sending parents these BMI letters.

To view the original report, click here.

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