Debate: Are Schools Body-Shaming Students?

Do body mass index screenings at school do more harm than good? Two teens take sides.

Chris Clinton/The Image Bank/Getty ImagesDo

Some teens are protesting mandatory BMI (body mass index) screenings in phys ed classes. Are these checks vital to your health—or harmful?

 YES:  My weight is between my doctor and me.

I understand that schools want to weigh students because they are concerned about their physical health. That’s not a bad thing! But I have to ask: What about their mental health? For many students, appearance and self-image are huge sources of stress. Forcing teens to be weighed at school will only increase the pressure they feel to fit a certain mold.

In my opinion, weight is a personal matter that should stay between a doctor and a patient. Just imagine someone who struggles with body image being told that his or her BMI is too high as classmates look on! Even if other kids can’t hear, no student wants to feel judged by his or her teacher. That’s not why we go to school.

If a school wants to have an impact on a student’s physical health, there are better ways to do it. Providing healthy but filling meals, encouraging physical activity, and teaching students about nutrition are ways to educate and empower students without crushing their self-esteem.

—Maya Meade, a high school freshman in Ohio

 NO:  We need to know how our weight affects our health.

There is no reason why a school should not be allowed to weigh its students and teach them how to calculate BMI! Obesity is a huge public health concern in our country (one in three kids and teens are overweight or obese). And schools are in the position to help students understand what their weight means for their health—before they’re at risk for life-threatening conditions, like diabetes or heart disease.

A school’s job is to help students reach their full potential, and your health undoubtedly plays a role in your academic performance. That’s why schools screen for other health issues, like hearing or vision problems. How is weight any different? BMI is not a perfect measurement, but it can help you identify the need for healthier eating habits or more physical activity.

The bottom line is: When you feel good, you learn better. As long as the actual number on the scale stays private, it should be viewed as an important part of your health education.

—Ben Bagbek, a high school sophomore in New York

3 Fast Facts

1. Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of weight adjusted for height. But it does not distinguish between muscle, excess fat, or bone mass—sometimes making its use as a screening tool unreliable.

2. Twenty states require BMI or body-composition screening in schools. Nine states recommend either a BMI screening or a fitness assessment that includes a body-composition component.

3. In one study of elementary and middle school students, notifying parents of school BMI screenings had no impact on obesity rates.

Sources: 1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); 2. Preventing Chronic Disease; 3. Archive of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine

Images: Courtesy of Family (Maya; Ben)

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