Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Coalition Perspectives: Should we collect BMI in schools?

Blog Post from the CINCH Director, Amy Paulson:

There has been a lot of debate around whether or not schools should collect Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements on school children.  There is additional debate also on whether or not a parent should be notified of the results.

It is important to note that just because BMI is collected often in the schools that children are not overweight simply because of what goes on at the school.  Children live in homes and communities with many factors contributing to their activity levels, nutrition intake, and weight.  We simply measure children in schools because that is where the normative population of children reside.  If you want to go bird watching, you go to the forest - if you want to measure children, you go to the schools. 

The challenge with BMI is that from a community and regional perspective we ALL need this information to be collected.  It certainly helps the school systems to make wise decisions about resources based on what is working (or not working) to keep kids healthy in schools.  It also helps community decisions on where to focus efforts, what factors are helping or hurting children's health, and to share best practices across communities.  More importantly, this information helps us, as a region, to leverage resources and apply for large scale funding to fight childhood obesity.

Certainly, there continues to be debate on how to collect BMI in a manner that is sensitive and appropriate, as well as how or if to notify parents.  We don't have these same debates about vision screening or notifying parents if their child has lice or is behind on immunizations. As a society we need to move forward in considering weight and BMI as medical information, just like other screenings.  Certainly any screening for any condition may not be accurate - which is why a referral to a physician is the best way to make sure the child gets an appropriate diagnosis and treatment for whatever the issue may be.  We need to move towards helping our community understand the importance of BMI as a medical indicator.  While body type may impact results - it is an accurate measure more often than it is not.  And, from a population health perspective, it's in an important, easily collected, accurate measurement. 

CINCH continues to support the collection of BMI data through our schools, in physician offices, as an important measure of our community's health.

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