Arkansas’ body report cards also know as ‘fat letters’ were proven ineffective in fighting off obesity in public schools that have the habit of acknowledging parents via a letter or two that their kids are overweight and should lose some weight.
Instead the practice was very hard to swallow by both parents and students. Plus, it made some experts worry that it may work against kids and their mental health. Body report cards were first introduced in Arkansas twelve years ago. In the meantime, nine more states adopted the practice.
Fat letters’ primary goal was to curb obesity by sending parents an open message that their kids should lose some pounds. But there are critics who argued that that may affect teenagers’ self-esteem and emotional well being.
And now there is even a study to support that hypothesis. The new research shows that body report cards failed to bring significant positive results in the fight against adolescent obesity in Arkansas.
Researchers compared the health outcomes of two groups of 11th and 12th graders. One of the groups received the letters and underwent weight screenings while other didn’t. The research team reported that they found no differences between the two groups.
The group who underwent no screenings was evaluated after 2007 when the state overhauled the law and exempted high school students from the procedure. The legislative change was the result of a series of complaints from parents saying that the fat letters interfered with their kids’ right to privacy.
Arkansas schools used the body mass index (BMI) to assess whether a kid is obese or overweight. If the kid indeed had one of these problems, the school would send some of the infamous letters to his or her parents.
Yet, some experts claim that using BMI in assessing weight problem risk is not accurate. Plus parents and some health groups including the Eating Disorders Coalition said that the BMI reporting practice was ineffective and even dangerous. Parents argued that telling a kid that he or she is fat would humiliate him and expose him to bullies at school.
Yet, four years ago, a study showed some relative success of the practice. About 27 percent of adolescents went on diet after learning their results, while 5 percent took weight-loss pills. But that study also found that 11 percent were shamed by the results.
Body report cards have another drawback. They do evaluate obesity but they fail to pinpoint the underlying issues that caused it. For instance, CDC found that low income people, especially in black and Latino communities, are more prone to weight problems. While Arkansas is on the fourth position on the list of states with the highest obesity rates, it is also one of the poorest states.
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