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The Childhood Obesity Perfect Storm, Part 5

December 2, 2010

Storm in Brisbane

The childhood obesity perfect storm continues — the combination of circumstances that have accumulated to bury children in layers of fat, and not only our own home-grown American children, but children all over the world. Something very ominous is happening, and it’s almost like a corny old science fiction story from a pulp magazine. What has made so many people fat?

Yesterday we talked about the cupcake controversy in grade schools, and the nutritional value of lunches brought from home versus the lunches bought in the cafeteria by middle-school students. In both cases, the right answers might help reduce childhood obesity.

And what about the schools’ responsibility for monitoring children’s health in this particular way, to try and prevent obesity? Schools are supposed to have rules about immunization records being up to date. This is a public health issue. Schools are supposed to report signs of child abuse to the proper authorities. Few people would argue with that, though misinterpretation or malice can bring a world of trouble to parents who don’t deserve it.

Schools should be very conscientious about the food served in their cafeterias, and everyone agrees about that, though they don’t agree on the definition of “healthful,” or on how better menus might be financed, or on what to do if the kids just won’t eat the nutritious stuff. And many people, including Dr. Pretlow, would prefer the complete disappearance of processed hedonic foods and sugary drinks from vending machines in schools everywhere.

But should we insist that public schools take it upon themselves to be the Fat Police? In Arizona, Deborah Delabruere says no. The mother of an 11-year-old girl was interviewed by Emily Valdez, a Fox network TV journalist, about the family’s experience. The daughter’s school sent her home with a letter telling her parents she is obese, and did it in such a way that the content was obvious to her peers. Delabruere describes her child as “humiliated and dejected,” and is especially upset because she actively works with her daughter on self-esteem issues, and feels that her good work has been undone.

Dr. Christine Carter-Kent, a Cleveland specialist in pediatric gastroneurology, was also interviewed. She believes that schools should monitor a child’s BMI (body mass index) and warn the parents when it is out of balance. But Carter-Kent also thinks this should be done in a more tactful way, privately, and face-to-face. She told the reporter,

Privacy is an issue. It should be something that is guaranteed that it won’t be revealed to other kids and their families, because in this time when we are seeing a lot of bullying and that sort of thing, we need to make sure this information is confidential.

In Massachusetts, another mother of a grade-school student made news by going public about her dissatisfaction with the way the local school district handles their job of notifying parents about the danger of obesity. Reporter Ashley Studley says,

Under a recent state regulation aimed at combating obesity, school nurses must measure the body mass index of students in first, fourth, seventh and 10th grades. Parents are notified of the results, but the state doesn’t have set guidelines about how parents are informed.

Lori-Ann Sumner, whose daughter brought home a piece of paper documenting the school’s BMI measurement, believes there is little sensitivity involved. She is especially worried that a child could misunderstand the meaning of the numbers, or even the fact that measurements are being done. A child could then slide into dysfunctional habits and possibly develop an eating disorder. Her own daughter is an active gymnast with a muscular body, and Sumner sees no problem with that.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “School Letter: Dear Parent, Your Child is Obese,” KTLA.com, 11/16/10
Source: “Mixed views on tracking students’ BMI,” Metrowest Daily News, 07/05/10
Image by Burning Image (Nam Nguyen), used under its Creative Commons license.

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