Toronto promises no 'fat letters' in childhood weight study
Published Tuesday, August 20, 2013 1:21PM EDT
Toronto Public Health is promising that a new study slated to begin next year to measure the body mass index (BMI) of school children will not involve sending kids home with so-called “fat letters.”
Starting in January 2014, middle- and high-school students in Toronto will be asked to participate in a student survey consisting of three parts:
- a written questionnaire covering topics such as eating and exercise habits, substance use and sexuality
- a measurement of height and weight
- letteran oral health check done by a dental hygienist
The agency says the study is being used for statistical purposes only in order to get a general picture of the trends and patterns in teen behaviours and health. It says it will not gather any personalized information, and will not involve sending letters home to children’s families. While a child can ask for their weight or BMI figures, the information won't be sent home to their parents.
In the U.S., BMI screening have been in use in 21 states for several years now. An opinion piece published on Monday in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal Pediatrics argues that weighing and measuring the height of schoolchildren and sending letters home with overweight kids is an important tool for combating the growing obesity epidemic in the U.S.
According to the paper’s author, Dr. Michael Flaherty, the screening program is intended to inform the parents of their children’s health, about the risks of obesity in childhood and to give parents a tool to have further discussions with their children’s pediatrician.
Flaherty argues that making parents aware of their children’s weight problem is the first step to begin the process of change.
“It is time to put aside this pride for the future of our children’s health,” he writes.
But the letters have generated plenty of criticism.
Some say the programs look strictly at body mass index and don’t consider physical fitness. Others, such as Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, the medical director of Ottawa’s Bariatric Medical Institute, say the letters amounts to “fat shaming.”
“I think many well-intentioned parents, when faced with these sorts of letters, will in fact bully their kids at home…. If guilt and shame helped kids to lose weight, kids would be thin. They have plenty of guilt and shame,” he told CTV Toronto.
Freedhoff also worries that the letters fail to provide any proven solutions to parents.
“I worry that what will end up happening is a lot of kids being put on strict diets, which we know in turn backfires for children, increasing their risk of things like eating disorders,” he said.
He argues that trying to correct the obesity problem after children are already dealing with obesity is akin to saying the best way to deal with an oncoming flood is to teach swimming lessons.
The better solution, he says, is working on the reasons why children are becoming obese in the first place.