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Devils Lake Journal - Devils Lake, ND
  • Dr. Murray Feingold: Is body mass index screening necessary at schools?

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  • The main purpose of schools is to educate students. However, over the years schools have served other functions that include entering the medical arena.
    For example, being involved in screening for hearing loss. Parents of children who “failed” their hearing test are informed of this so they can then have their child undergo a more formal hearing examination.
    Another example is screening for scoliosis or curvature of the spine. There has not been too much of a parent uproar over these tests although some people have questioned if they are really beneficial.
    A much bigger furor has been raised over schoolchildren being screened for their body mass index or BMI. This is a measure of body fat based on the child’s height and weight.
    In certain states, parents of children whose BMI findings indicate they are overweight or obese are sent letters informing them of this finding. These letters have been referred to by some people as “fat letters.”
    Recent studies have shown that about a third of all children and adolescents are overweight or obese. These findings are significant because of the association between obesity with medical problems such as heart disease.
    Health officials are hopeful that when parents are informed about the presence of obesity, measures will be taken to help prevent it.
    However, many parents and others have raised objections to such “fat letters.” They are concerned about such things as bullying, inappropriate dieting and the emergence of an eating disorder. It may also have an affect on the child’s emotional and psychological wellbeing.
    Others believe it is one more example of government getting involved in an issue that should be between the patient and his or her doctor.
    Those who are in favor of school BMI testing point out that other school public health programs have been successful such as mandatory school entrance requirements of having proper vaccinations and vision and hearing tests.
    A recent article in favor of BMI screening points out that most of the surveys in Arkansas, where BMI screening programs have been present for over four years, have not shown any negative consequences.
    What we presently know is being overweight and obese are associated with medical problems. And, the majority of times, although not always easy, obesity is preventable.
    Now we need to determine the most effective way that does the most good and least amount of harm to the child to detect the presence of obesity.
    It is a worthwhile endeavor.
    Massachusetts-based Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.

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