Arkansas schools are taking a bold step in the fight against childhood obesity by sending parents report cards on their kids’ weight. State health officials see it as just another basic screening test, like vision or hearing, except with bonus stigma. And while "researchers cringe at the term [report cards] because it implies a passing or failing grade," cringes at the idea that the state of Arkansas thinks its parents don't already know if their own kids are fat or not.

The Journal of the American Dietetic Association's recent article on obesity report cards featured several hints of how wrongheaded such a program can be:

- One organizer of a Massachusetts pilot program said she worried that parents of overweight kids would rush to put their kids on diets after getting the bad news. "This is not what we wanted," she said. The reports in her program even read, "Please do not put your child on a weight loss/gain diet. Work with your doctor or the school nurse to find the right strategies for your family." These strategies may, or may not, include taking away Johnny's cheese curls.

- The reports also read, "Love and accept your child for who they are." Hey, you're telling us that Sally's fat AND that we should love and accept her?! Make up your mind!

- Reports were mailed home to parents to preserve students' privacy, which certainly beat the alternative: "Hey, Joanie, I just saw Sue Ellen's obesity report, and, you'll never believe it - She's FAT!" "No way! I had no idea! OK, that's it, she's off the gymnastics squad!"

- The overseer of Arkansas' new program says, "We don't want to make it sound like you're a bad parent because your child has a weight problem." On the other hand, if you don't want your kid to be tested simply because you find it to be asinine, you'll have to get the permission of the state legislature. (No, really. That's what you have to do.)

Here's what we're getting at: When FD was a fat kid, everyone knew it, from his parents to his classmates. Would a note from the school confirming that fact have made a difference? It's possible it could have been a kick in the pants to spur a healthier lifestyle, but many obese kids already get plenty of kicks in the rear from other kids in the locker room, thanks all the same. It's hard to see this report card as much more than the addition of insult to injury. It's like Rodney Dangerfield's joke, "My doctor told me I was too fat. I said, I want a second opinion. He said, OK, you're ugly, too."

July 20, 2004 | Permalink | Subscribe to RSS


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