A UK mom is upset that her daughter’s school sent home a letter saying she’s overweight.
As parents, we do our best to model good habits and a health body image to our kids. Unfortunately, outside forces sometimes sabotage those efforts. A UK mom recently spoke out after her young daughter refused to eat for two full days because a school health initiative labeled her too heavy.
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According to the Daily Mail, fitness instructor Amelya Lyndsay was furious when her 11-year-old daughter, Olivia, brought home a letter from her primary school stating that, per her BMI, she’s overweight. The girl was weighed at school as part of the UK’s National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP), and she was so upset by the results that she refused to eat for two days. Her mom had to pull out her old nutrition books to convince her that she is, in fact, perfectly healthy.
“It is unbelievable how much damage can be done by this program,” Lyndsay told reporters. She says her daughter is among the tallest students in her class and a healthy weight for her height. She also rarely eats unhealthy foods, since her mom has a background in nutrition. She declined to reveal her daughter’s exact BMI but said, “They need to put something else in place, don’t just bring a measuring tape and scales into school to stress children about it.”
Many schools all over the world have implemented measures to keep kids healthy and alert parents of potential issues. According to the CDC, many U.S. schools measure students’ BMIs as part of yearly fitness assessments, though they stress the importance of adhering to “safeguards” to minimize potential risks to students — things like obtaining parental consent and keeping the results confidential. Even with safeguards in place, it seems a bit like playing with fire to tell 11-year-old children they’re too fat, especially using such an unreliable measure.
BMI, or body mass index, is basically a measure of body fat based on a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters. It doesn’t take into account muscle mass, diet, frequency of exercise, or a number of other factors that can affect a person’s health. People who are very muscular may have a very high BMI, while a naturally thin person who eats McDonald’s every day can have a very low one. It’s pretty subjective, and adults can adjust their expectations accordingly. Kids can’t.
The National Eating Disorders Association finds 40-60 percent of elementary age girls are concerned about their weight, and 46 percent of 9-11 year olds in a national survey described themselves as being “on a diet.” Even scarier, they say, is that these early concerns about weight and weight loss often last a lifetime. When Amelya Lyndsay says there has to be another way, she’s right. It’s unwise to frighten children about their weight, especially during the times in their life when they’re most vulnerable to developing disordered behaviors that can last forever.
As much as we want to reverse the problem of childhood obesity and encourage our kids to lead active, healthy lifestyles, we have to remember that we can’t do it through shame and fear. Rather than a letter about BMI, schools could just easily send home a list of recommended foods or unique ways to incorporate exercise into a busy schedule. We can teach kids healthy habits without ever making mention of how much fat is on their bodies, and hey, we just might spare them a lifetime of negative self talk and yo-yo dieting in the process.