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Commentary: Education, Not BMI Scores

By Dawn McMullan, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX –

Imagine doing a rundown of your child's report card and finding this:

- Pre-algebra: 97

- Language Arts: 89

- Biology: 92

- BMI: 25

BMI? No, it's not bio-mechanical instruction. It's Body Mass Index. I'm sure you've heard of it. Basically, you take your weight, divide that by your height in inches squared, then divide that number by 703. If that number is 18.5 or below, you don't weigh enough. For a person of normal weight, the number is 18.5 to 24.9; overweight is 25 to 29.9; obese is 30 or greater.

No need to frantically try to remember these figures. The BMI formula is easily found online. Or, it seemed until recently, on your child's future report card.

State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, a Democrat from San Antonio, presented Senate Bill 205 in January. As originally proposed, the bill would require public school districts to calculate a student's Body Mass Index and report the number - along with his or her algebra, biology, and social studies scores - on their report card.

Now my kids don't go to public school. And they - by the grace of energetic, skinny genetics and a watchful eye on what they eat - don't have a weight problem. But my son's best friend is on the other end of the spectrum. His parents keep him involved in sports and watch what he eats, but he still shops in the husky section. Which is fine because, as I said, his parents have a handle on it.

What would not be fine is if this sweet, grade-competitive little second-grader - who is already, at age 8, sensitive about his weight - got hit in the face one day with his BMI on his report card. His BMI number would put him above the 95th percentile among kids his age. While he's confident being in the 95th percentile in every other subject, being at the top of the BMI scale is an early warning sign that he's headed for obesity. Imagine the comparisons on the bus, on the playground. As if kids need ammunition to make fun of each other.

Hopefully, we don't have to worry about this scenario. Quickly realizing this new use of a child's report card wasn't going to fly with the public, Senator Van de Putte is making changes to her bill - good ones. She is now proposing the state create something called a health information card, which would be separate from a report card. The card - containing the student's BMI statistic, the formula used to come up with that number, and its implications - would be mailed to a child's home. Arkansas created such a system two years ago, while Georgia and New York are considering similar options this year.

Senator Van de Putte, a pharmacist by training, has good intentions. She quotes statistics that among Texas 4th graders: 38 percent of girls and 39 percent of boys were overweight or obese in 2001. A child who is obese at the age of 12 has a 75 percent chance of becoming an obese adult. And we don't need any more obese adults in our everything's-bigger state. Already, 61 percent of our state's adults are overweight by BMI standards.

Now I'm no fan of childhood obesity. But I certainly don't think we need to further hammer our children's body image by comparing what their body does to what their brain does. What if we stopped cutting PE and recess and made physical activity a top priority instead of one that falls way below preparing for the TAKS tests?

The solution to our children's obesity problems is simple: more activity and less fattening food. Perhaps implementing Senator Van de Putte's revised plan for a health information card would add education into the mix. What we don't need to add - which including BMI numbers on a child's report card would accomplish - is public shame.


Dawn McMullan is a writer from Dallas. If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.