'Fat letters' the latest tactic against childhood obesity

The latest weapon being used to fight childhood obesity has nothing to do with nutrition or exercise.

It's called a "fat letter" – and if your child's health is compromised because of a high BMI, you might be getting one in the mail from his or her school.

States taking responsibility

More and more states are tackling childhood obesity by implementing screening programs to collect height, weight and BMI statistics about children. Some are taking this process a step further and requiring that parents receive confidential letters informing them of the results and prompting them to discuss the child's health with a doctor. In Massachusetts, for example, parents are informed of their child's BMI results when kids are in grades 1, 4, 7 and 10.

"Obesity is an epidemic in our country and one that is compromising the health and life expectancy of our children," said Michael Flaherty, a pediatric resident physician in the Department of Pediatrics at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., to Web MD. "We must embrace any way possible to raise awareness of these concerns and to bring down the stigmas associated with obesity so that our children may grow to lead healthy adult lives."

An intrusion?

Not everyone is on board with "fat letters," however. Some argue this type of intervention could trigger bullying or eating disorders among children who are already vulnerable to these kinds of challenges.

Furthermore, some fear that BMI assessments might wrongfully categorize muscular children as being overweight.

Yet, Flaherty believes the potential benefits of these letters outweigh any risks, since the policy is a confidential way of alerting parents to potential problems that can be addressed privately.

The key for success, however, would be comprehensive follow-up – parents would need to have referrals to appropriate resources to help their children make proper health modifications, said Dr. David Dunkin, an assistant professor of pediatric gastroenterology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

"While I feel that the intention is good [to] raise awareness among parents about their children being obese, and thus instilling motivation for behavioral changes or lifestyle modifications, this is unlikely to have effects in and of itself," Dunkin said.

Source: Web MD

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