BOSTON — Schools would no longer have to notify parents of their child’s body mass index score and the potential health risks associated with being overweight or obese, under a proposed rule change recommended by the Patrick administration.
Public officials say the four-year-old program of collecting student BMI scores has provided valuable information to the state for targeting populations at risk of obesity, but suggest that the uneven implementation of the parental notification requirement has led to bullying, increasing stigma around weight issues and concerns about body image, particularly among adolescent girls.
Adopted in 2009 as part of an effort to combat childhood obesity, the current regulations have led to increased reporting of height, weight and BMI by local school districts to the state and their implementation has come during a period featuring a slight decline in obesity rates. Concerns about bullying and questions about the effectiveness of the notification requirements have also cropped up in communities around the state.
Meanwhile, State Rep. Jim Lyons, R-Andover, has filed legislation this session (H 2024) that would prohibit the Department of Public Health from collecting data on students relative to height, weight and body mass indexes.
The bill was filed on behalf of a constituent in North Andover whose son received a letter from his school about a problematic BMI score, even though Lyons said he is an athlete and in shape. Doctors on the Public Health Council acknowledge that BMI indexes often fail to account for athletes who may be more muscular than their peers.
“I would certainly be in support of giving the local committee control of what they do with it. The bigger question in my mind is what the big advantages are to doing it. It seems the Department of Public Health has a number of issues they should be focusing on and this isn’t at the top of their list of priorities,” Lyons said.