Arkansas has its work cut out for it. Obesity rates in that state are among the highest in the country, but the state began its fight to keep kids healthy when, in 2003, it decided to start measuring the BMI of all schoolchildren. Today confidential Child Health Reports are made available through schools to each student’s parent or guardian. The reports explain why Arkansas assesses students' BMIs, describes the BMI screening process, educates parents about potential obesity-related health risks facing their children, and provides simple suggestions to help families improve nutrition and increase physical activity.
Depending on the student's information, the report includes the student's height, weight, and BMI and a classification as underweight, healthy weight, overweight, obese, or unable to assess.
Arkansas' program has demonstrated the feasibility of statewide surveillance. And while controversial at first, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended in 2003 that every child's BMI be assessed every year, and in 2005 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) followed suit. "The IOM says if schools make the kinds of changes where we know the science is on board, we'll see obesity rates fall. But you can't know that for sure unless you measure it," Dr. Marks says. "We're seeing more and more places do it, but I think the major reason people do [BMI measurement] is because, unless you're measuring what is happening, you can't be sure you're having an effect."
Some of the fears about measuring BMI at school, such as kids teasing each other, have not emerged as a problem, he adds. The schools make sure the information is shared with the parents or provider," he says. "That, I think, has helped with some people's concern about it." Nine other states also have BMI screening in schools.
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