Schools Send 'Fat Letters' Home With Overweight Students (Video)

Friday, 06 Sep 2013 09:14 AM

By Alexandra Ward

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Health experts are divided on the new practice of schools weighing their students and then sending home so-called "fat letters" to the parents of those who register as overweight.

According to ABC News, schools in 19 states, from Arkansas to Illinois, are measuring students as young as preschoolers at annual weigh-ins and then reporting the findings back to parents.

"We look at growth charts and percentiles and when a child is at 95 percent of their — we can look at weight for age or weight for height — that child would be considered obese," Lauren Schmitt, a registered dietitian who conducts the weigh-ins for hundreds of preschoolers in California's San Fernando Valley, told CBS Los Angeles.

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"We let the parents know in a gentle fashion, but we also send out a ton of handouts to try to help that family," she said.

Schmitt may call these notices "gentle," but kids are calling them "fat letters."

More than 40 percent of 9- and 10-year-old girls have tried dieting, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, and as many as 60 percent of all 6-12-year-olds worry about their weight.

"I'm insecure because I'm taller than a lot of girls in my school and I'm also bigger than a lot of them," Lucy Williams, a 13-year-old who attends public school in New York City, told ABC News. "And I'm not incredibly skinny."

Eating disorder expert Claire Mysko says it's this type of body attitude that can be exacerbated by the school weigh-ins and BMI testing.

"I would like to see BMI testing in schools banned," she said. "For those who are already insecure about their weight, these tests can potentially trigger an eating disorder."

Parents, too, are concerned.

"When they are entering adolescence, their bodies are changing and they get this number that says, 'Oh, you're not the right number,'" Shannon Park, a mother of two girls who go to school in NYC, told ABC News. "It's just a horrible way to start womanhood."

But Schmitt maintains that the goal of the weigh-ins isn’t to stigmatize students.

"It's not a way to categorize someone," she said. "It's just showing that this child has increased risk to be obese as an adult, which then could lead to quite a few chronic diseases."

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