The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Breaking News

March 29, 2014

Schools increasingly check students for obesity

(Continued)

CHULA VISTA, Calif. —

"I've seen a dramatic change," Beltran said of her son, who now eats carrots and looks forward to running club.

Chula Vista's program — which measures students in grades kindergarten through sixth grade — differs from California's state-mandated program for fifth, seventh and ninth graders that screens students and notifies parents of the scores.

Vicki Greenleaf said she received what she called a "fat letter" in the mail last summer from the Los Angeles Unified School District. Her daughter does Brazilian martial arts four times a week and is built like Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton, but was classified as overweight by the state-mandated body mass index screening program, she said.

Critics say body mass index can be misleading for muscular body types.

Greenleaf, a spokeswoman for the National Eating Disorders Association, said her daughter knew about the screening's limitations but other children's self-esteem could be seriously harmed by such notifications.

"I think those letters make kids feel bad about themselves," she said. "For a kid that is predisposed to an eating disorder, those are the kind of triggers that can set it off."

Massachusetts in October stopped requiring schools notify parents when a child scores high after receiving reports that the data was not safeguarded enough, "leading to alarm, confusion or embarrassment," according to the state's public health department. Parents can request the results.

"The current policies to protect student data are pretty inconsistent and at times woefully inadequate," said James Steyer, CEO of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Common Sense Media, which reviews technology and children's privacy.

Little is known about the outcomes of school-based measurement programs, including effects on attitudes, and behaviors of youth and their families. As a result, no consensus exists on their utility for young people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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