An email circulated recently among parents about District 65’s Body Mass Index testing in middle school physical education classes. The writer’s concern was not about the test itself, but about whether kids at this age are emotionally ready to handle such information.
It’s a complicated issue. On one hand, I’m thrilled that kids are learning how to calculate this index and, more importantly, being made aware of this aspect of their overall health. On the other hand, I too am concerned whether kids can handle this information in a mature way, and also wonder what the kids are expected to do with this knowledge moving forward.
As a District 65 parent, I wasn’t aware the BMI testing was being done. Granted, I can’t possibly know everything the teachers teach, so why does this topic strike such a chord with many of us?
I’ll sum it up in two ways:
- Middle school and
Except for those with a psyche of steel, the middle school years can be a daunting time of life. You want to fit in, but everyone’s hormones, bodies, moods and friends remain in a constant state of flux. Though eye-rolling is common, more often middle schoolers steal sideways glances at their peers. Consider these hypothetical locker room conversations after the BMI testing:
“Did your class do the BMI thing?”
“What’d you get?
“I saw Jane’s face when she figured out hers.”
“Mine is SO low!”
“I’m never eating again.”
“Alex said Scott’s was the highest, but I don’t believe it. I bet Jordan’s is higher.”
“I don’t get it. Just look at how skinny she is…”
Then consider these hypothetical internal conversations in the mind of a middle schooler:
“I can’t believe my body fat’s that high (or that low). I’m not normal.”
“I’m never eating again.”
“That was mortifying.”
“Everyone’s talking about me.”
“I’m a failure.”
“It says it right there on the paper. I’m too fat.”
“This proves exactly what I thought.”
While these may be extreme examples, the fact remains: these kids are 11, 12, and 13 years old. They’re self-conscious and self-absorbed. They ruminate and spiral over issues that may or may not be rational. Are they ready for this information?
Let me get this straight: as a parent, I’m informed by the district when my child has vision and hearing screenings, when dental checkups are available and when my child’s been exposed to the streptococcal virus or head lice…but I’m not informed that my child’s weight’s been measured and that she’s armed with Body Mass Index information? I’m grateful for all of these services – don’t get me wrong – but I have a right to know the results, too.
Childhood obesity is no doubt an epidemic in our country, and the more empowered kids are about health and nutrition, the better. I think it’s important to inform kids about the choices and consequences connected with eating and exercising. I just hope the process isn’t one in which kids are made to feel judged or stressed about an issue that is fraught with emotion—even for adults.
After word got out about the BMI testing via one concerned parent’s e-mail, Supt. Hardy Murphy sent a follow-up email to district families explaining the process, which included the following statement from Denise Rossa, Middle School Physical Education Department Chair:
At District 65, the Physical Education department has the focus of helping our students become or continue to be healthy. We use a widely utilized and well respected software testing program called “FITNESSGRAM” from Human Kinetics [click here for the FITNESSGRAM WEBSITE]. All tests assess students in the 5 health-related fitness components; Cardiovascular Fitness, Muscular Strength, Muscular Endurance, Flexibility and Body Composition to provide a more well rounded picture of a student's physical fitness. All 5 components are crucial to an individual’s health and we believe health awareness starts much sooner than adulthood. We also believe in educating students on the importance of being in the “Healthy Fitness Zone” of all the tests and how to get to that zone if not already there...
FITNESSGRAM recognizes that physically fit and less-fit people come in all shapes and sizes. The beginning level of the FITNESSGRAM Healthy Fitness Zone for body composition is based on research that links these levels to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The FITNESSGRAM parent and student reports use carefully worded terminology to help parents and youth understand possible risks associated with higher levels of body fatness. Language that could be used to describe physical appearance is not used in the FITNESSGRAM reports...
The FITNESSGRAM report provides information to help you (and your child) interpret body composition scores...The use of health-related criteria helps to minimize comparisons between children and to emphasize personal fitness for health rather than goals based solely on performance. Since only modest amounts of exercise are needed for obtaining health benefits, most students who participate in physical activity almost every day will be able to achieve a score that will place them in the Healthy Fitness Zone.
I wish the letter had also included this link to the Human Kinetics website addressing parents’ frequently asked questions.
I appreciated the superintendent’s response to the concerned parent’s email, though I wonder how and when I’ll receive results of the testing.