BMI Measurements in Schools
An article in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer discusses the latest incursion of the schools -- via the legislature -- into my job.
Apparently America is getting fatter. Apparently it is children as well as adults who are packing on the pounds as fast food is supersized and physical activity recedes into the X-box console. And apparently the schools don't have enough to do teaching the basic academic skills of reading, math and science; witness how many people believe the chiropracters who tell them germs are only a theory and immunization is dangerous. Apparently the danger of overweight is so great and its presence so subtle that parents and doctors can no longer be trusted to notice what their children look like.
Fortunately, the government (of Pennsylvania, at any rate) has stepped in and now requires schools to weigh and measure students at school and, using a simple arithmetic formula to arrive at a single number of completely unproven clinical significance in this age group, to enlighten parents about their child's BMI percentile.
Realistically, what are parents supposed to do with this information? I'll tell you what they do: they call me.
"I got a note from Johnny's school saying that he's 'at risk for overweight.' What does that mean?" they ask.
I peruse the child's growth chart and note that he's been tracking beautifully along the 50th percentile ever since he's come under my care at the age of three.
"Nothing," I answer, and proceed to waste ten minutes of my time (and the parent's) discussing the normal growth of children, the hazards of overweight and the greater hazard of trying to predict which child will wind up seriously obese and which is about to begin a growth spurt during which he will stretch out and his BMI recede from the "danger" zone. Granted that discussions about healthy diet, snacking and substantial levels of physical activity are important ones to have, but they take place EVERY YEAR WHEN I SEE THE CHILD FOR HIS CHECKUP.
All I can hope is that mandated BMI measurements in school rapidly go the way of required scoliosis screening which, in the wake of convincing evidence of its uselessness, is disappearing all too gradually. Perhaps they can upgrade the science curriculum to fill all the extra time they will have freed up.