A group of middle school mothers petitioned the Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board Monday night to discontinue testing their students annually to determine their body mass index (BMI) on the grounds that other students may tease them about the results.

It was the culmination of a discussion that has occupied many hours of board members’ time since it emerged as a discussion item at the Jan. 16 and March 13 meetings of the board’s Policy Committee.

At Monday night’s meeting of the full board, a panel of guests that included physical education teachers and medical specialists were invited to summarize the pros and cons of the annual measurement technique, designed as an aid for teaching students about healthy eating and exercise habits.

But the tone was set at the beginning of the discussion, when a middle school mom said her concern was that “this creates a difficult situation for students who are already at an age where they are struggling to fit in and are struggling to understand what is happening to their bodies, which are rapidly changing.”

Another speaker, however, representing an organization called Pioneering Healthy Communities, countered her remarks with the statement that “it is important to establish healthy habits early, and BMI is one tool that is helpful in this conversation.”

Another parent told of an experience of hers when she was in the second grade and she was pointed out in class as being the student who weighed the most.

“I know we want to raise our children’s self-esteem,” she said, “and I know that on that day, mine was crushed. That day I was the fattest girl in school.”

Denise Rossa, the district’s Physical Education Dept. chair, said that the Fitnessgram program, of which BMI measurement is a part, has been used in the district for more than a decade.

The testing is done privately and the scores are not shared with others, she insisted. The parents are able to receive the scores at home on their computers, she said, and they are given the opportunity to opt out of the testing if they wish.

Students are “never labeled obese, overweight, or underweight,” she said, and added that the district has received “no evidence of negative outcomes of BMI testing.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, Board Vice President Richard Rhykus listed a number of activities engaged in by the district to promote health and wellness and that the BMI testing is “a small component” of these efforts.

Accordingly, he recommended that the district suspend BMI testing for the next year while the board assesses the program to determine if it should continue. He noted that every communication he has received from parents has been in opposition to the program.

One of the physicians on the panel suggested that those who complain are typically white, middle-to-upper-income residents who already have a physician, while those who benefit most from the screening are minority lower-income families who cannot afford to see a physician on a regular basis.

Board President Tracy Quattrocki said that the issue will be on the agenda for action at the regular board meeting scheduled for June 17.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. How can this lead to teasing?

    The BMI results are not shared publicly with anyone; only the parents (and child, presumably) know the result.  How does this lead to teasing/bullying?  I assume that the parent who was singled out for being large in 2nd grade was not picked on because of BMI results, but rather because she was visibly large.  BMI doesn't tell us anything that can't be seen with our eyes–it just provides a more scientific quantification of it. 

    1. BMI testing does not belong in the public schools

      Your post sounded very mean. BMI testing is medical testing and does not belong in the public schools. It certainly does not need to be funded by our education tax dollars. If it is to be in our nanny state schools, it should be voluntary and a fee to cover costs should be required.

      (Editor's note: BMI testing at District 65 is voluntary, as parents have the opportunity to opt out.) 

    2. Tweens know the score

       Have you ever been in a middle school?  Tweens do not need the actual data to make fun of someone.  They know who the overweight students are, even without the numbers, and this "testing" brings body image to the forefront of their minds.  Just asking the heavier students their weight or scores can be damaging.  If the student answers s/he can be demeaned and if they don't then they can be ridiculed for not wanting to answer.   


  2. PHC is a community collaboration movement

    First off, Pioneering Healthy Communities is not an "organization" but a community collaboration movement among representatives of day care facilities, schools, hospital, and community organizations that was initiated by the McGaw YMCA.  The goal is to direct our institutions toward the importance and value of adopting nutritious diets & exercise, as well as to reduce childhood obesity, starting in early childhood.

    One can use the Internet on a home computer & a home scale to privately find and determine BMI; a doctor or even a school is not necessary. And PE classes have indeed been collecting participant BMI for some time.

    Pioneering Healthy Communities is a grassroots movement throughout numerous towns and cities in the US. Grant funds are available from foundations to advance this collaborative community effort.  And metics are important to obtain these funds. A valuable metric is BMI, expressed in the aggregate (without indentifying any single individual) , even broken down to demographics.  A community can't accurately identify certain health risks and benchmarks without including, at minimum, BMI.  Although there is increasing controversy over the accuracy of BMI as a health-risk marker, BMI is still the easiest such marker to universally collect.

    And really, enough  with the "self-esteem" excuse.




    1. Self esteem excuse?

      First off, what there's enough of is your "community collaboration" talk.  Obviously there are people in the "community" who don't want you intruding into the personal matters concerning their childrens bodies.

      As you stated, there is justified controversy over the "accuracy" of BMI, so basically this test is of little use and questionable value. 

      Oh, but wait, now I get it, you need it for your "metrics" to assit the YMCA's PHC obtaining some CDC or foundation funding!

      You are free to promote your agenda, free to petition politicians, create more YMCA programs, whatever.

      But you should never have been granted the freedom to place onerous burden on busy parents, forcing them to opt out of this questionable, and "potentially" emotional harmful, personal data collection.

      It's your last line, so insolent and disdainful, how does a parents concern over their childrens "self esteem" become some kind of excuse they need to justify to the likes of you?   Really, what's your excuse?  

      Go get a new "metric" to justify your funding.  And if you can't educate people to willingly opt into the test, then you're failing miserably and don't deserve further funding anyway.

  3. Has everyone gone crazy?!

    This shouldn't even be an issue people are talking about. PARENTS CAN OPT OUT AND RESULTS ARE NOT SHARED. I think that alleviates any and all ridiculous "self esteem" issues anyone may have. 

    Geez it seems like some people like to petition things for sport not because it's a worthwhile issue to fight.

    1. In the Real World

      To those who assume that it is okay for a public school to measure kids' weight and BMI because parents can opt out — look at this program and yourself more  critically.  First of all, if this program is so vital to children's health, why isn't it offered at all schools?  And even if it were offered at Kingsley, where my children are in attendance, here is why I might miss the "opt-out" option– my husband and I work full time and have trouble keeping up with the tri- weekly emailed newsletters and USPS mailed letters from the district.  Do those of you posting in support of BMI testing truly have children enrolled in these participating schools?  Or are you merely crying foul and posting negative and unreflective, unsubstantiated criticism of parents and children because this  is the lastest negative Evanston Now fad that you can glom on to?  Enough with the negative posts that skewer adults brave enough to question District 65's current, yet frighteningly Eugenics-era, program in person.  If you feel so strongly that this program is a positive, healthy, part of public education,  then show up and testify in person at the next board meeting.  

      1. Its simple if you dont like it OPT OUT

        Really Hypatia you and your husband can't keep up with the few emails you get a week from the school?? With all the technology now a days you can get email anywhere on your phone, tablet, home computer, work computer etc it's really not that hard to keep up with. I do it myself while being a single mom with two kids and working full time.  

        I have children enrolled in district 65 schools and I am indifferent to the BMI testing as my kids see a doctor routinely. I would also understand this being an issue if participation was mandatory but it's not. So all I am saying is that if you feel your kids are going to be so damaged by the testing just choose to opt out end of story. 

        1. Opt in

          Ridiculous comment, why should any parent be put into a position that they must take action to opt out of this useless and ridiculous test. 

          It's not a question of tech, time or dilegence.  it's a question of why is the  school collecting personal information that is none of their business, possibly aggravating emotional damage to children in the process.  

          Ever hear of sending out a letter explaining what they want to do and then letting parents opt in instead?  Now, isn't that simple?  You can now take the time to OPT IN 

          Glad to hear your indifferent, good for you.  Your a single mom working full time, so what.  Why are you criticizing  people who don't like the program and want the ridiculous mandatory unless you opt out structure changed?

          I guess instead of making a simple change everybody should just shut up and live to accomdate your indifference.

          1. Re: Opt in

            Just because you feel like it is a useless and ridiculous test doesn't mean every parent feels that way. And it obviously is a question of tech time and diligence because the comment I replied to said she can't keep up with emails from the school so she would likely miss the opt out option.

            It seems the reason the school is collecting the information in the first place is to get parents and students to start having conversations about healthy eating and maybe improving their habits. It's just another tool to encourage a healthy lifestyle just as there are physical education classes and the push for healthier school lunches. 

            Since you're talking so much about what you seem to think is so ridiculous it's ridiculous that you think you can shelter your child from all things related to self esteem. There are always going to be things in life that can potentially hurt a child's self esteem. Whether it's kids who are bigger, skinnier, richer, poorer, or smarter. There's going to be tryouts for sports where they may not make the team and plays they try out for and may not get a part. IT'S JUST A PART OF LIFE. But back to the topic just because a handful of parents including you disagree with the testing doesn't mean the majority of parents share your views. 

          2. Still ridiculous

            It is a useless test, physicians will tell you that, the P.E. teachers have said that, it has no value whatsoever.  Seemingly the only value is that the Y sponsered program wants that information to formulate a metric they can use to solicit tax grant money from CDC or private foundations.  Nothing more. 

            Nobody cares what you or other parents think, you have no right to impose something that others feel is potentially harmful onto their childrfen.  Who do you think you are?

            The test has no bearing and has no importance to any educational program activity whatsoever.  You can still create educational programs about healthy eating and lifestyles, whatever, without collecting personal information that you or the schools really have no right collecting to begin with. 

            Obviously everyone is aware that many things can hurt a childs self esteem, duh, really?   But why defend a postition that has real potential negative effect in support of a data collection program that has absolutely no real value whatsoever.  Maybe you are one of those needing the data to collect CDC grant money. 

            If you think the majority of parents share your view, then just move to the opt in system.  If you are right then the opt in system will show that as fact. But I know your wrong and an opt in system would also prove that to be a simple factual part of life. 

      2. It’s not a big deal

        It is not done at Kingsley because it's part of the middle school curriculm.  And as the parent of a kid who is athletic and probably a little overweight – and actually goes to middle school and did BMI testing – I think it's not a big deal.  She came away talking about how much of her body was made of muscle and seemed to have an understanding of being healthy, not consumed with how much she weighs.  I think too many parents who aren't even at this stage yet are jumping on the 'negative' bandwagon.  There are enough things to worry about without adding this to the list before your kid is even there …

    2. Not our experience

      Every point that Denise Rossa (the PE Dept chair) made was not our experience.

      The testing was done in a gym environment-weight and height measurements were announced out loud-sometimes quietly, sometimes. 

      I don't remember ever seeing any notice to opt out-granted, could be I just missed it.

      Kids knew each others scores before parents even did.

      My student came home saying she was told she was in the "anorexic" range (she's healthy as anyone, just has the bone density of a bird) but she felt bad for the girl ahead of her who was really upset to be labeled as obese-when actually, she's very athletic.

      So all y'all who haven't had any experience with the program can just hush.

  4. Much more to it

    First of all, one of the things I consider most significant at this meeting were the number of PE teachers speaking out against the use of this measure in school, for various different reasons – at least four spoke, two on the panel.

    Second, the concerns brought by many parents and physicians about BMI was not exclusively about self-esteem, but whether there was any clear benefit to offering this screening at school, considering possible negative outcomes of the measure.  Damage to self-esteem was one of several outcomes discussed, others including bullying and vulnerability to eating disorders.  

    As it stands, there is no plan to use the in-school BMI screening to connect students with medical resources, it is only used as an "educational tool."  This was a major concern: if there is not a medical purpose, what purpose does this measure have, other than potentially causing students distress? 

  5. BMI has little meaning

    BMI is based on height and weight. That's it.  No accounting for body type, muscle density, or the crazy growth spurts that go hand in hand with being in middle school.    

    Healthy kids with low weight are being called severely underweight; healthy kids with athletic builds are being called overweight.  Then parents have to step in and tell the kids they are just fine the way they are, because you know what? A lot of those chunky middle-schoolers are on the verge of growing 6 inches over the summer and will be labeled as beanpoles next year.  

    And you know what else? Results aren't totally private, whether the kids are self-reporting to friends, or if kids are just figuring it out on their own, because–this is middle school for Pete's sake.  Remember being in middle school? 

    Self-esteem is a big issue at this age, but it only tells part of the story.  Yes, the kids do talk and no, BMI really doesn't tell much of anything.  

    PS  To the doctor on the panel who suggested it was typically the wealthier white parents who complained–perhaps that is a result of it being typically caucasian girls and women who suffer from body image issues.  Maybe because of this, their opinions shouldn't be so quickly dismissed.  And since the information is not used to refer medical services, it really doesn't help the minority lower-income families either, does it?

  6. Where does it stop?

    So if you want to eliminate any measure on weight because it might hurt self esteem, what about eliminating grades, because that is an indicator if you are smart or not so smart. It hurts self esteem also to get a low grade….

  7. No Privacy!

    This information is not kept private! In fact, both at Haven and at ETHS students in my class were assigned to record the weights of their classmates. I have also been in gym classes at both schools where teachers were calling out the weights of students for other students to record.

    Contrary to what the Dept. chair claims, the Fitness Gram graph from ETHS distinctly categorizes kids as either "very lean," in the healthy fitness zone, or at "some" or "high risk" for obesity. 

    In my experience, everyone winds up knowing each other's BMI, and it leads to gossip and bullying. I personally know kids who hid in the bathroom in middle school to avoid being weighed.

  8. Stop using junk food as a reward

    Let's have a little less emotion and a little more rationality in this conversation.

    First, kids who are genuinely overweight know this – and may well have been teased about it by other children since an early age. They don't suddenly "find out" that they are overweight due to a BMI measurement – they are reminded of it all the time by their peers, when they go to buy clothes, when swimming or at PE, by all the images around them.  So yes, self-esteem issues are real, but they are not caused or brought to light by one BMI measurement. 

    The BMI measurement discussion is just bringing another light to bear on the problem of overeating in the U.S. Better to deal with the actual issue of unhealthy weight, and one thing D65 could easily do to help create a healthy relationship with food is stop using junk food as in-school rewards for just about everything – academic achievement, behavior goals, participation goals, etc.  It's a year-long infusion of cake, muffins, candy, pizza, etc., etc., handed out by teachers for reasons that have nothing to do with hunger.

    And in addition to the food relationship, teaching kids to work or behave only in order to get an unrelated award (ie pizza for academic success as opposed to a book) seems a bit off, too. I do commend D65 on the fitness element in the current PE program. My own son has made a lot of progress as a result of it. After that, just teach kids to eat well and provide them wtih good food, make sure they get plenty of exercise, allow for the fact that there are different body types in the world, and move on without all the hand-wringing over one measurement.

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