Body-Image, BMIs and School Weigh-Ins: NEDIC Responds

In response to:

Daugherty, A. (19 August, 2013). Should students be sent home with ‘fat letters’ if they’re overweight? The Globe & Mail.

Oved, M. C. (19 August, 2013). Toronto schools won’t send ‘fat letters’ home. The Toronto Star.

Last week, I was surprised to come across two articles discussing whether Toronto schools will soon be weighing students, determining whether they are within a ‘healthy’ weight range – and sending the results to parents. When asked what they thought about this, the majority of parents surveyed in a Toronto Star poll reported that they would not allow their children to participate in BMI testing if it was brought to their school. Why? Could it be that parents understand that BMI is not a good measure of health and wellbeing? That measuring BMI in schools continues a flawed panic – using a flawed measuring tool – about size rather than health?

What the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) seems to be ignoring in its advocacy of weighing and measuring the height of schoolchildren is the risk it carries not just to increase body-based bullying from student’s teachers and peers, but the risk to children’s developing self-stigma and poor body image.

Body-based bullying continues to be the most common cause of bullying in youth. 29% of girls and 15% of boys are already teased about their weight at home. By grade seven, up to 30% of girls and 25% of boys are teased by other students. Poor body image has been found to stop youth from engaging in social, academic and physical opportunities. It limits willingness to express an opinion. In perpetuating focus on body shapes and sizes rather than on encouraging health providing attitudes and behaviours in children regardless of size, what are our schools (and public health) teaching?

Is it not time for a critical reflection on the value of an arguably insensitive and body-shaming tool? At best, weighing children in schools under this scheme is of limited value, skewed by methodology and undermines the relationship between children and their mentors. At worst, it encourages body-shaming and poor self-esteem in children. At the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC), we believe that it’s not our bodies that need changing. It’s our attitudes. Stay in touch. Help us continue the discussion on food and weight preoccupation here.

Jackie Grandy has been NEDIC’s Outreach & Education Coordinator since May of 2012. To learn more about how NEDIC reaches out and provides public education, or to book a NEDIC outreach visit in your area, contact her at jackie.grandy@uhn.ca.