A number of school districts (and even entire states) have recently adopted policies that will begin measuring the Body Mass Index of students and placing a corresponding "weight grade" on his or her report card. In addition to the A's and B's and C's handed out for subjects like math and reading, kids in these schools will receive similar marks on their height-weight ratio.
Nearly every comment I have seen regarding this idea says it is a terrible plan. The concerns, mainly from parents, run from damaging the self-esteem of our children to giving the government too much control over our lives. Many are also worried about things like eating disorders and teachers playing the role of doctors. The Body Mass Index as a legitimate indicator of health is certainly in question too.
While I agree that grading a child's BMI is an awful idea, my objection is not for the same reason as most. My problem is this: when a school grades a child on his or her BMI, they are grading a student based on something that is almost completely out of that child's control.
At least until high school, kids don't make their own money. Kids don't buy their own food. Kids don't drive themselves to McDonald's. Kids don't fill their own plates. Kids don't choose their own mealtimes or regulate their own snacks. Kids don't pick the school lunch menu. Parents do. Or grandparents do. Or daycare does.
The amount of exercise an elementary school child gets is slightly less dependent on parents, but not much. Kids can't move to a safer neighborhood on their own. Kids can't get out of a grass-less community alone. Kids can't sign up for t-ball or soccer by themselves. Kids can't make it light outside after they get home from the babysitter. And, even if they could, periodic exercise is hardly enough to overcome regular drive-thru and microwave meals. (I won't even get into the numerous genetic factors we could take into consideration.)
Grading a child based on BMI is, in effect, akin to grading them based on the clothes they wear, the backpack they use, or the car they're driven to school in. There is little that a seven or eight year old can do to change either without mom's or dad's immediate involvement. In reality, a "weight grade" doesn't measure the students' progress, it measures the parents' progress (or lack thereof).
It seems to me that the key to solving America's childhood obesity problem doesn't lie in our schools. It lies in solving America's adult obesity problem first.