It’s a regulation that has been in place for 5 years. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health requires public schools to screen each student for their BMI in 1st, 4th, 7th and 10th grade. Then all parents are sent a letter with the results. Last year in West Springfield over 33% of students in any of these grades was considered overweight or obese. But according to West Springfield Superintendent Russell Johnston, the regulation does help.
“It helps to just communicate to parents two important things. Here are the results and if you have any concerns about this we encourage you to speak with your pediatrician or your child’s nurse to follow up because this is just one indication of your child’s weight,” Johnston said.
Locally 20-25% of children are considered obese. But what makes those children more than just overweight? In order to fall in the category of obese, a child’s BMI needs to fall in the top 5%.
Many parents may question whether BMI is an appropriate way to determine whether a child is overweight, especially if that child is muscular or has a bigger build. But according to Dr. Wittcopp, Director of Baystate’s Pediatric Weight Management Program, for children who fall into the 95th percentile and are categorized as obese, those excuses no longer apply.
“For kids the reason why we choose the 95th percentile cut off is that’s where we see disease. So even if you want to say you’re big boned or that you have a family risk, if we start to see disease associated with it then it’s probably too much weight for your body,” explained Dr. Wittcopp.
Over the last 5 years that schools have been sending home letters informing parents of their child’s BMI, the numbers have only slightly improved. Begging the question, what more can we do to help our children get on track for a healthier lifestyle?