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.