Something to Think About

"I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Friday, March 8, 2013

Rose-colored Glasses and our Children's Health

Last week, Patrick, of the blog Patrick's Place, wrote about a letter that went home to the parents of children in some Massachusetts school districts.  The letters told parents their child's BMI (body mass index) and whether that placed them in the normal, overweight or obese categories.

Some parents objected to the letters as they didn't account for especially athletic students who would have a higher percentage of muscle weight and because they felt the school was focusing on a number not the individual children.  I can understand this to a certain point but, as Patrick pointed out, we have to start somewhere in the fight against childhood obesity. Besides, I would guess that the vast majority of children who have a BMI that places them in the obese range actually do have a weight issue.

I encourage you to read Patrick's post as well as the comments. We had quite a discussion about the letters.  Feel free to join in on the discussion with your thoughts!

I was reminded of Patrick's post earlier this week when I was listening to NPR radio. They were discussing a study that seems to indicate that we may not have the most objective view of our own child's weight.  I have to wonder if this has something to do with the reaction of the parents over those BMI letters that were sent out in Massachusetts.

The study points out only 20% of parents in the US think that their children are overweight or obese. Figures from 2012 indicate that almost 32% of children in the US are overweight or obese so some parents aren't being objective when it comes to their children's weight.

It turns out that human beings tend to be optimistic when it comes to assessing health risks. We tend to think that bad news just doesn't apply to us and this shows in our reaction when we are faced with our own children's weight and possible future problems associated with it. The tendency to look on the bright side extends to other health-related issues so I encourage you to take a look at - or listen to - the NPR report to get more information.  Optimism can be a good thing but we have to be careful that we aren't ignoring potential health issues.

A neuroscientist, Tali Sharot, suggests that we should consider a different approach when we talk to parents about their children's health. One work-around she suggested would be to tell parents that eating meals as a family, eating healthier foods and exercising can "turbocharge" their children without mentioning weight at all.  This might accomplish more than asking parents to focus on their child's BMI.  Perhaps school officials simply need to change the way they communicate with families to get the results they are looking for. It's certainly something to consider.

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NPR is running a series about families who are struggling to eat healthier and exercise that has quite a few good ideas that you might want to check out.  I'm especially interested in telling my daughter about another piece I heard about getting your children to eat their vegetables as her daughter is a picky eater.

Image by chloeloe and found here

2 comments:

  1. "BMI was explicitly cited by Keys as being appropriate for population studies, and inappropriate for individual diagnosis." [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_mass_index] I wish medical practitioners would remember this and get over this diagnosis fad!

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    1. Wow. I've never heard that it was not to be used for individual diagnosis! That does make a lot of sense, though.

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