NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Weighing Students

August 21, 2003

A controversial new law in Arkansas will make the state's public schools weigh their students and send the results home to parents along with nutritional advice. About 13.8 percent of Arkansas's high-school students are overweight, compared with 10.5 percent nationwide.

The law -- considered one of the most aggressive state attempts to tackle the problem of childhood obesity -- will require schools to measure each student's body-mass index (BMI), a ratio of height to weight, and make parents aware of the health risks of obesity.

Some critics say that weight-screening presents logistical as well as social problems for schools and students:

  • Administrators fear that screening will require money, staffing and time that schools simply don't have; in the Monticello school district, for example, there is one school nurse for 2,100 students.
  • Uninsured families could be told their child has a health problem but not have the money to see a doctor.
  • At certain Michigan schools that conducted weight screenings, some children went on extreme diets after learning their BMIs were high.

Furthermore, weight screening could subject overweight students to a social stigma, embarrassing those children whom the program is intended to help. One way to minimize this stigma, say health officials, is for nurses to offer only supportive or neutral words while weighing students.

Although 30 similar bills and resolutions intending to curb youth obesity have been proposed in other states, Arkansas is the first one to pass such a measure.

Source: Betsy McKay, "In Arkansas, Schools to Score A Child's Weight," Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2003.

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