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Understanding, Addressing Body Mass Index

Letters notifying parents of their children's BMI were sent out last month and school officials are working to improve the statistics.

In the last 30 years, childhood obesity has doubled and is increasing among younger children, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If a child is obese by the age of 13, he or she is 70 percent likely to be an obese adult, the USDA tells us.

Plug into that equation the 314 Milford 7th graders who had their Body Mass Index calculated earlier this school year, and you'll find that 40 percent of them are at high risk of carrying obesity into adulthood.

But it's not too late to turn around that statistic and start taking advantage of the numerous activities Milford has to offer to keep kids (and adults, for that matter) healthy.

Superintendent Bob Tremblay encourages families not to think of BMI as an obstacle, but as motivator toward health. 

School-based BMI screening was initiated as a mandate from the state Department of Public Health. The screening was intended to raise awareness for parents and provide a first step toward intervention for children who are overweight and obese.

The issue, brought to the forefront last year when First Lady introduced her "Let's Move" campaign to combat childhood obesity, is quantified in part through BMI, a number calculated from a person's weight and height and used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. Obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or greater. 

A total of 1,161 children in grades 1, 4, 7 and 10 in the Milford schools had their BMI calculated in January. Children fell into the underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese categories. The majority of students fell into the healthy weight category.

According toTremblay and School Nursing Director Judy Dagnese, the BMI statistics revealed that 29 percent to 33 percent of the elementary students and 40 percent of the 7th and 10th graders in Milford are overweight and obese, compared to 10 percent to 20 percent national average cited by the CDC.

The table below shows the results (each number is a student).

Grade

Underweight

(<5th percentile)

Normal

(>5th and <85th percentile)

Overweight

(>85th percentile but <95th)

Obese

(>95th percentile)

1 17 205 44 48 4 5 210 52 55 7 8 182 69 55 10 2 127 47 35

Parents and guardians were notified of the child’s status by mail with recommendation for follow up with an appropriate healthcare provider. (More information is available here: www.mass.gov/massinmotion.)

Milford school administrators say they take these numbers seriously and are instituting changes. 

They have revamped the Student Wellness Policy with components of nutrition, physical activity and wellness policy in alignment with the Medical Awareness Policy. In addition, the district adheres to the ‘Massachusetts A La Carte Food and Beverage Standards to Promote a Healthier School Environment’ Action for Healthy Kids.

Tremblay recommended that families work with the schools by utilizing the many community resources for exercise and nutrition, such as:

  • “Physical Education in our Schools night,” is 6 to 7:45 p.m. March 31 at .
  • is currently in the midst of a “Jump rope for Heart” fundraiser.

Healthy Kids Week, from April 11 to April 15, is loaded with opportunities for family fun, healthy eating and exercise:

  • Healthy kids “Olympics” at the
  • will offer free swim
  • Woodland  and 5K and ½ mile fun run on April 9
  • Cooking with Carla Tuttle in conjunction with , , and students on Milford cable
  • “Walk in Progress” when all the Milford schools will have children and staff walking  nonstop
  • 1st Annual Family Fitness Run on Sunday, May 22.

Empowering your family's health means simple and consistent changes that can help ward off a lifetime of challenges obesity presents.

Mary MacDonald (Editor) March 27, 2011 at 12:58 PM
Excellent column, Lisa and very informative!
celine Lorenzati-Brochard March 27, 2011 at 01:56 PM
What about healthier school menu??? outdoor recess?
Karen Raleigh March 27, 2011 at 02:04 PM
This issue is one I care passionately about. I think there are real limitations to the BMI as a measure of health, but I am so happy to see people paying attention to this issue. I would love to see some real discussion about what it would take to get more unprocessed, healthier foods in the school lunch menu. I know that the folks at the School Lunch program are severely limited by the small amount of money and large amount of red tape they have to work with, but I would love to have the conversation.
annamarie March 27, 2011 at 03:20 PM
A European filmmaker has been reversing weight problems in NON diabetics with a Diabetes diet. It has been giving people who have a hard time losing weight a normal body weight fast It is now used in 10 countries. ALL weight issues are caused by Food chemicals and he shows how to reverse it if you are Diabetic or not http://spirithappy.wordpress.com/new-type-2-diabetes-diet-cure
Lisa Vasile March 28, 2011 at 11:12 AM
I am passionate about teaching health to the children (BMI or no BMI) and am proud the schools took the state mandate seriously and are working hard to implement changes. I truly appreciate all feedback from the columns I write. School lunches are on my agenda of health topics... stay tuned!
Proud Father March 28, 2011 at 11:42 AM
While I agree schools should be teaching kids how to live a healthy lifestyle. I vehemently disagree that the school and government should be playing the roll of doctor. My Childs medical condition should be diagnosed by a real medical professional of my choosing. Not a school nurse using some out dated index. The biggest infraction here is the school performed a medical examination on my child without my consent. It’s simple; schools teach and pedestrians perform medical exams.
Mary MacDonald (Editor) March 28, 2011 at 02:48 PM
I do wonder, though, how many parents were unaware of how their children fared on this particular index. The purpose of the notification is to inform parents and help children, not harm them. Schools often do serve as a first line in referrals for medical issues, including eyesight problems.
sunny March 28, 2011 at 03:55 PM
Proud Father, In many cases , school nurses are a family's ONLY medical resource. I also am feeling sorry for you that you don't feel nurses are 'real medical professionals'. I also think you will find no one committed any 'infraction'; school nurses, truly unsung hero positions, are required to do this screening. They are not diagnosing. Again, sorry you don't see nurses as a valuable asset, if not the backbone, of medical care. Spending a day in the hospital, or in one of those schools: you will *certainly* get an education ( in more ways than one).
sunny March 28, 2011 at 04:00 PM
and please....explain to me about pedestrians performing medical exams. I am fascinated.
BEBL March 28, 2011 at 07:58 PM
Sunny, a schools place is to educate not to diagnose medical conditions. If they care to have classes on healthy eating and exercise that is fine, it's not there place to send home letters to parents telling them their child is obese. I agree with Proud Father, that is for the family's doctors, as for those who's "school nurses are a family's ONLY medical resource", well just maybe it's time to stop catering to the minority instead of the majority. Or how about possibly sending home some sort of notification that BMI's will be taken unless the notification is returned with a parents "opt-out"? And for the record, my child does not go to the Milford School system.
Mary MacDonald (Editor) March 28, 2011 at 09:34 PM
This program is state-required, which means parents of children in the selected, or screened, grades will all be getting a letter this year. It's meant as information. I'm not sure I understand why there is such anger over this issue.
Colleen March 29, 2011 at 12:06 AM
First must I say that I think it is wonderful that so many people feel so passionately about this topic. Lisa thank you for writing such a great article. I am perplexed as to why anyone would be upset that the school is trying to help make your children healthier?! Not all doctors are openly speaking with parents about the level of severity of this problem. The bottom line is that if your child is at risk of having diabetes, heart disease or cancer b/c of their weight, why would you be offended that someone is trying to alert you to the fact that you need to make changes?!? So many parents now adays are complacent and are ok with their children eating fast food or piles of processed food while at home. Lets face facts here.... parents are upset because this test is showing that their children are not a "picture of health", it does not have to do with the fact that the school actually did the testing. An obese child is NOT eating well at home and where does that stem from?! It comes from the parents and their food choices that they bring into the home. I find it hard to believe that many parents are expressing outrage after reading that their child has a normal BMI. .... why..... because these parents already are educated on healthy lifestyles thus why their children are not the issue. The Milford Public School is doing a service to ALL children by doing this testing.
Colleen March 29, 2011 at 12:09 AM
Continued..... If you are a parent to an obese child would you not like to be alerted to the fact that your child is heading towards an unhealthy adulthood?!? To BEBL , it's not about catering to just those without a family doctor. I know MANY parents who dont care what their children eat, those people are NOT exclusive to Milford Ma. I am sure you can find plenty of them in Hopkinton, Upton and Holliston. Obesity is not a Milford onlyproblem. Its a problem all over the place. Thank you Lisa for being so upfront and educating everyone on why this testing was so important. The more educated parents can be the better. Maybe instead of people being so outraged at the Milford Public School System they can take 50% of that energy and put it towards making their children healthier so we can reduce those alarming statistics. Lets lets this be a wake up call. No one was out to insult you or your children... they want your children to live, long , healthy lives. Thank you Lisa for sharing. You are wonderful!
Deanna Runeman March 29, 2011 at 12:48 AM
I think you are assuming something that's untrue. Skinny kids=healthy, bigger kids=unhealthy. Skinny kids=educated parents, bigger kids=uneducated parents. I don't have any problem informing kids about nutrition and health in schools. What I have a problem with is my 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 year old daughter(s) being weighed and measured in a school environment. I think this is very problematic. Bigger kids know they are bigger, and they are not all obese, they do not need to be put through the process at school. We all develop at different rates. Adolescent girls do not all fit into the skinny silhouette. Our family is very active and our kids eat very little processed food. But I know many children smaller than my own that eat diets filled with sugar and crap. I am 6'2" and my husband is 6'4", our children will probably not be petite, and that's okay.
Michelle Sullivan March 29, 2011 at 12:15 PM
I applaud the school system for taking on this task. There are so many reasons this is a good thing. First of all, many parents may not realize that thier child is beginning to border on overweight or obese. This is a red flag warning to them that a nutritional change needs to happen in thier familiy. Starting healthy eating habits and conversations can make the difference between a healthy adult or one that will struggle for the rest of thier life with weight issues and associated health problems. Additionally, this program may identify children who are underweight as well, which also poses a whole variety of risks. Eating disorders start young, and like obesity, catching them early can make a difference for the rest of thier lives. If the school system starts removing these kinds of programs, where will it end. They screen for scoliosis and eye problems as well, but no one seems to be very concerned about that. To stop any of these screening programs would be a disservice to parents and kids.
sunny March 29, 2011 at 12:16 PM
BEBL...I think noticing that keeping kids safe and healthy is important. And again, school nurses are NOT diagnosing; they are merely screening. And these screens are mandated by the state. The nurses are doing their jobs. If you have a problem with it, then it needs to be debated on the state level, and not the town level. And as far as notifying parents this screening was going to happen? It's on the schools website. And I believe it is in their handbooks. As far as stopping 'catering to the minority instead of the majority', puulease. Two words for you: SCHOOL SPORTS. Some of the arguments presented are not based in reality.
Cindy Popovic March 29, 2011 at 01:19 PM
Our first priority is and should be the kids. whether you support the BMI monitoring in the schools, believe the monitoring should be done by medical providers (who are not given the needed time to educate/counsel), feel the lunch menu needs help (they are given less than $2.00 per child per lunch to provide such a meal), feel the food industry is doing us all a injustice by providing us all with sub-par food (high fructose in everything for example) and making healthy options so expensive it is not a possible option for many. The problem is still present. The next generations are heading for a medical crisis. High blood pressure, diabetes, kidney failure, infertility, and a shorter life span all quickly come to mind. That is the problem, and what is the answer? I do not know - I am sure it will require a multidisciplinary approach, involving us the parents, the schools, the medical community and perhaps the government. But it has to happen and happen soon.
Cindy Popovic March 29, 2011 at 01:36 PM
Deanna you are correct. "skinny" does not mean healthy, and BMI alone is not a complete assessment of ones health. BMI is calculated by weight and height and has a range. Short kids and tall kids are both at risk. Monitioring ones BMI over time is the key. children do go thru growth spurts and that is considered of course, but that is where the range on the BMI scale comes in. I know several physicians who are obese, so being bigger does not represent someones education, horrible to think that people calculate it to that. Again I am not sure where and how the BMI measurements should be occuring, but I can say if it was being done and monitored correctly already we would not even be having this posting. I applaud you for keeping your kids active and doing your best to help them eat well, you set a great example for all of us and most importantly you children!
Deanna Runeman March 29, 2011 at 01:59 PM
I agree with you and understand how BMI works. I root for better foods in school and more activity and better foods at home.My analogy springs from one of the commentors. She said parents who are angry must have kids with high BMI's. Like there can be no other reason for disagreeing with this approach. My point is, I don't want my daughters at vulnerable ages weighed in a school environment. I understand the need to fight childhood obesity, but I would hazard a guess that parents of obese children know it and either are working to fight it or don't care. They don't need a note sent home from school to confirm what they can see. Sometimes heavy kids grow into fit adults and plenty of thin kids (who never learn limits and healthy eating because of high metabolism at a young age) turn into heavy adults. There is no secret formula. I don't own a scale at home and I never want my daughters thinking that is how they measure their worth in the world.
Brenda Wheelock March 30, 2011 at 06:41 PM
If the Milford School Department decides to overhaul their school lunch program, perhaps they could consult with the Framingham Food Service Director, Brendan Ryan. He started the job in 2006. I'm curious how his new program is working. You can read more about him here: http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/homepage/x1707002308
Debbie March 31, 2011 at 03:13 AM
Weight is such a touchy subject, especially when you're dealing with young girls. I do have to agree with Deanna that to have the children screened in a school environment could be quite harmful emotionally. My question would be, "Where are your pediatricians?" My daughter is overweight and we have worked with her pediatrician for years with regards to her weight, but more importantly her health. He referred her to a program at Children's Hospital a few years back and it was wonderful. With the changes we made as suggested by a nutrionist and doctor, she has been able to lose a few pounds, but most importantly it has kept her healthy. She will never be a "skinny" girl and I really don't need anyone telling me what her BMI is. Her pediatrician tracks her every year. But for children that rely on school lunches, that is a problem. My daughter very rarely buys school lunches and we watch portion size, sugar and fat. It's not a matter of making the kids eat only healthy snacks/meals , it is a matter of monitoring the portions, sugars, fats and ingredients and staying away from high fructose corn syrup. I have worked really hard to make sure my daughter has a positive self image and is not obsessed with being "thin".
Proud Father March 31, 2011 at 10:47 AM
Debbie...Nice to hear you and unfortunately a minority of working class families are taking control of your own life. It seems most need government to manage their lives for them. I sure am glad I am not in their shoes. The only thing the government does well is take care of their public union buddies.
Lisa Vasile March 31, 2011 at 05:18 PM
A few of the commentors mentioned decreasing High Fructose Corn Syrup as a method to make healthier choices. The commercials (by the corn growers of America) claim HFCS is just sugar made from corn and the FDA deams it 'safe for consumption'; I wanted to offer the readers a few articles to read. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100322204628.htm and http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S26/91/22K07/ There are also articles stating that HFCS is fine. My take is that too much of all sugar/fructose/HFCS is feeding the obesity issues in America.

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