BMI Report Cards: The ‘F’ Is For ‘Futility’

While some revelers are out celebrating Mardi Gras, a few Maryland legislators are conspiring to make it a Non-Fat Tuesday. The General Assembly in Annapolis is considering legislation that would require public schools to measure their students and send home Body Mass Index (BMI) information on their report cards. The Baltimore Sun has done some fine reporting to uncover serious (and not-so-serious) reasons to oppose any such law, over and above scientific findings that cast doubt on the usefulness of the BMI in general.

The BMI report card is hardly a new idea — Arkansas mandated the same thing in 2003. The Sun reported the results:

Parents in Arkansas did not take kindly to the fat measurements. In fact, last year state lawmakers tried to have the law repealed. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, during the first year of the screenings 13 percent of parents said their children had been teased at school because of the program … More disturbing for some Arkansas officials: The BMI testing has not put a dent in the state’s number of overweight kids.

Futility plus mockery sounds like a promising start for a health initiative. Since pretty much all an adult needs to assess a child’s weight is one functioning eye, we suspect that it’s not for lack of information that some parents aren’t giving their kids the health guidance they need.

Uselessness is one thing, but the BMI report card may raise a worse specter yet, as The Sun reports:

“It further accentuates the idea that weight is of extreme importance,” says Dr. Harry Brandt, director of the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. He predicts that some young people would feel bad enough about their body grades to experiment with the sort of unhealthy behavior that leads to anorexia or bulimia.

The Sun goes on to recount the experience of a woman highly sensitive to this very subject:

Christine Duray, a recovering anorexic who works in the state comptroller’s office, swung past a recent Senate hearing on [the BMI report card]. She didn’t want to testify. The idea just worried her.

“If I was already teetering on the edge of an eating disorder, this would push me right over the edge,” she says. “There’s already competition enough in high school.”

In the hopes that we haven’t completely darkened a hearty Fat Tuesday dinner for you, consider a little parting wisdom. When one Maryland high school senior was asked by The Sun about the proposal, she said: “It’s kind of like against basic human rights!”

We couldn’t have put it better. The BMI report card: It’s kind of like against basic human rights.

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