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Archive for Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Arkansas weighs dropping student obesity reports

February 6, 2007


— Arkansas - the first state to send home obesity report cards to warn parents of overweight kids' health risks - may ditch the plan or weaken it with the help of the new governor.

Gov. Mike Beebe said the school weigh-ins and report cards had "a lot of negative, unintended consequences" and hurt some children's self-esteem. He favors letting parents drop out of the program more easily and wants the state to test children less often.

It's worth noting that Beebe, a Democrat, has no weight problem. His predecessor, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, used to weigh 280 pounds, and before he began campaigning for president he campaigned against the ills of obesity.

Since Arkansas adopted its school-based anti-obesity program, California, Florida and Pennsylvania have launched similar efforts. And public health officials in Arkansas point to a slight drop in the state's childhood obesity rate since the program got going.

But some lawmakers say that telling parents their children weigh too much could hurt children's self-esteem. Some also question whether it's the role of schools to monitor students' weight or if it even makes a difference.

Supporters of the current program, like Dr. Karen Young at Arkansas Children's Hospital, say fat children have self-esteem problems regardless.

"The kids who are overweight are already being teased," said Young, who directs a pediatric fitness clinic. "These poor children, they're suffering. It doesn't take the letter for them to suffer."

Arkansas' program began in 2004 after the Legislature directed public schools to weigh and measure children, calculating their body-mass index (BMI), a number used to determine whether their weight is appropriate for their age.

Huckabee championed the program as he dropped 110 pounds after being diagnosed with diabetes. Beebe, who took office Jan. 9, wants Arkansas to test children less often and make it easier to let parents opt out.

"There are a lot of things schools should be doing, but there are a lot of things parents should be doing and one of them is trying to make sure their kids stay healthy," he said.

The Arkansas House last week approved a bill that would repeal the BMI report cards altogether, horrifying health experts who see the program as a wake-up call for families.

"It's spurring some major action on the part of parents," Young said. "Some of them really don't know their child is overweight until they get the letter."


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