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BMI Report Cards: Good or Bad Idea for Addressing Childhood Obesity?

Catherine is a senior communications professional helping social change organizations tell their story in powerful ways. She has expertise in public health, environmental stewardship, philanthropy and education. Follow her on Twitter @CatBrozena

News and media outlets have been buzzing with debate over the past few weeks concerning a recently issued recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics advocating for the use of BMI report cards to notify parents if their child is overweight or obese.

BMI or body-mass index screenings are currently stipulated by schools in 21 states across the country. These measurements of body composition using height and weight are often followed up with letters to parents of children to notify them of their child’s BMI percentile and weight category. The BMI screenings originated in response to the rising epidemic of childhood obesity, and the intent of the confidential letters was to encourage parents to address potential obesity-related health issues and discuss them with the child’s health care provider.

However, opponents of the so-called “fat letters” have raised numerous issues about the misuse and misclassification that BMI screenings can cause, potential bullying problems for kids identified as overweight or obese, the potential increase in eating disorders as a result and the invasion of government into what should be maintained as a private issue between families and their physicians.

Pediatrician and author Michael R. Flaherty, DO explains, “BMI screening letters are an additional awareness tool to promote conversations about healthy eating habits, exercise, and weight in the safety and confidential environment of the child’s home…No parent would be proud to receive a letter stating their child is in the overweight or obese category, but the awareness and acknowledgment that he or she could have a weight problem begins the process of a multidisciplinary approach to change.

The controversy is sure to continue as there are many sides to the issue and the practice of BMI screenings and notifying parents, once limited to a few states is now more widespread.


Read the recent American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation

Read the US News and World Report post – “Report: ‘Fat Letters’ Necessary to Fight Childhood Obesity”

Read the Huffington Post blog article from Dayle Hayes, MS, RD –“BMI Report Cards: More Harm Than Good?”



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