Body Mass Index Bill Could Loosen Belt for Kids and Parents

March 7, 2007 - Posted at 5:48 p.m. CST

JONESBORO-After several amendments, controversial House Bill 1173 is now awaiting Governor Beebe's signature.

The changes would remove requirements that schools provide parents an annual body mass index report on their children.

"The effectiveness of BMI's. I'm not seeing a great deal of change. We've been doing it now for four years," said Sharon House who's a nurse within the Jonesboro Schools.

Additionally, the bill allows parents to refuse to have their child's B.M.I. assessed.

"I think this ought to be a parental decision anyway's," said House.  "These children have to depend on the family...the parents to purchase the food and prepare the food to help them lose the weight. If the parents don't change their lifestyle, then that child cannot change their lifestyle."

The bill would also exempt teens in grades 11 and 12 from participating in the B.M.I. assessments.

While B.M.I. testing may not be done quite as frequently, those that work to keep children healthy say at least it's not being taken out of schools all together.

"I really don't think Juniors and Seniors should be exempt, but like I said, I'm very pleased we have not gotten rid of BMI testing all together. I think we can compromise," said Laura Taylor, the manager of NEA's Center for Healthy Children.

She says the B.M.I. tests are beneficial.

"I can tell you the majority of the kids who come to the Center for Healthy Children have joined because of the BMI testing and the letters sent home from the schools," said Taylor.

But just how often are the letters taken seriously?

"In years past when parents came by to pick up their BMI results, right beside you was the trash can, and before they left my office it went in the garbage," said House.

It's not because they don't care, but often the numbers just don't add up.

"You may have a young man that weighs a bit, but it's muscle and not fat. They will probably end up in overweight, and that's not a true picture of their physical health," said House.

However, that picture could be growing fuzzy.

"I absolutely think BMI testing has become more political than a health issue. That's just really sad because the health issues in being overweight are so extreme and so serious and we are finding all of these diseases, adult diseases in children these days," said Taylor.

House Bill 1173 is currently awaiting the signature of Governor Beebe.