Who Should Tell Parents Their Kids Are Overweight?

In Florida, mom Laura Cacdad got a letter from her daughter’s school nurse telling her that she needed to get her daughter’s health assessed. When Cacdad called the school, the nurse told her that her daughter’s BMI was too high according to state standards.

Do Parents Need Help?

Because her daughter was able to read the letter, she then asked her mom if she was fat.

According to the article in their local newspaper, the mom said that her daughter’s doctor had never expressed concern over her daughter’s weight and that her daughter was healthy in every way.

I remember getting weighed as a child. We all lined up outside the nurse’s office and stood on the scale. Everyone of us knew why we were there but no one thought about what the nurse would do with our number. She would write down our weight on her clipboard and then the next person stood on the scale. As far as I knew, my parents never heard from the school on whether or not I was overweight.

However, the kids teased each other over who might be the fattest in the classroom. Back when I was in school, there were few overweight children. Usually one, or maybe two, in each elementary school classroom.

Today; however, about 30 percent of school aged kids are overweight or obese. (source)  The increase in kids who struggle with their weight is very concerning because that weight often stays with them into adulthood, which sets them up for a lifelong struggle with weight and increased health risks.

My question is, do school nurses need to be the ones to tell parents their kids are overweight? Don’t parents already know that their child is overweight and that being overweight can impact their child’s health?

One would assume so; however, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics says not really. The study authors, who were interviewed in an article in the Huffington Post, indicated they found

. . . that 31 percent of parents of obese or overweight children considered their child’s health to be excellent or very good, and 28 percent of parents did not view their child’s weight as a health concern.

There could be several reasons for this, one of which is the fact that the prevalence of obesity in America makes overweight people feel as though they are at a normal weight because they look like almost everyone else. I call it the new normal, where being at a healthy weight is unusual and being overweight is now considered normal.

Parents probably find it easy look at their kids in relation to other kids they know and assess their health based on what they see around them. If each of their child’s friends look just like their child, everyone must be healthy – right?

Unfortunately, this assumption can lead to false perceptions of whether a child is overweight or not. I have a friend whose child is very heavy but she honestly does not seem to see it. She talks about other children who need to lose weight and says she is glad her child does not have a weight problem and loves that her child is active in sports. I see her child’s weight problem but she does not.

This brings me back to my original question – who needs to tell parents their child is overweight? Is it really the role of the school or should it be reserved for the child’s physician?

I still remember the line snaking outside the nurse’s office for weigh-in day and even though I was not overweight, I felt stressed. I can imagine what an overweight child feels as they stand in line waiting to step up on the scale. Even though the weights are kept confidential, it brings up all kinds of feelings and issues around body image.

I fall on the side of the argument that weight is best left to be discussed between a parent and a child’s doctor rather than having children be weighed and measured by a school nurse and having that nurse send home a letter that a child may read and feel bad about. A better way is for the school to send home general letters to every parent encouraging them to have their child seen for regular check-ups.

What do you think? Do parents need help knowing their child is overweight and where should that help come from? Diane

9 thoughts on “Who Should Tell Parents Their Kids Are Overweight?

  1. Mandy Cat says:

    This article assumes that every child has a family doctor whom they see on a regular basis. This is far from accurate; millions of families rely on a patchwork of emergency room visits and charity clinics. Sadly, the children from these families are the most likely to be obese. As with so many aspects of our fraying American society, schools are filling in the gaps.

  2. Diana says:

    This can be a very touchy subject! My opinion is that I think the schools need to worry about “teaching” our children and not checking their weight. The only health thing schools should make sure of is that each and every child gets immunizations! Yes, I realize THAT subject is a whole different ballgame, but it’s true. I work in health care and I have a son with Asberger’s syndrome. I never even flinched for a moment about whether or not to get him immunized. Back to other subject….
    I have been blessed with being able to have top notch health care for myself and my family. Not every one does. But, we as responsible parents must make sacrifices to make sure our children have their medical needs met. My father worked, at times, 3 jobs to make sure of this.
    Schools need to add more gym classes, and it should be longer than just a mere 15 minute class. Schools need to back off the books and get kids learning to cook and being outside. My son had algebra in middle school…..what’s with that??? Who needs algebra in middle school??
    Sorry for the long rant…..

  3. Leah (goodnight cheese) says:

    I’m not sure there IS a right system for this. Ideally, schools should teach reading and math, and parents should deal with emotional development, health, nurturing, self-esteem, etc.
    But what happens when parents don’t do their jobs? When they don’t care if the kid is failing, or 200 lbs, or pregnant? It shouldn’t be the school’s responsibility, but then you have a lot of kids who aren’t getting things that they really need, or who are lost or depressed or obese. I really don’t know what the answer is.

  4. Laura says:

    I agree with you, that is between the parent and the doctor. I remember the humiliation being the slightly pudgiest student in the class, of standing on that scale. Worse yet is that it was other parents who were doing the weighing and hearing their remarks once I had moved on.

  5. Janis says:

    The school is almost the ONLY institution that can track this sort of thing. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. And it isn’t like only the heavier kids need to be singled out — I can easily see a form letter sent home to every family: “Your child is XX inches in height and is in the Nth percentile for height. Your child is XX lbs in weight and is medically classified as underweight/lean/normal/overweight/obese.” There’s definitely a way to phrase it that’s nonjudgmental and standardized.

    But yes, it must be done. Kids feel bad about getting bad grades as well — and some are bullied for getting GOOD grades. Should we do away with grading and testing — education as a whole? Should we remove everything from life that might make someone feel bad? In a few decades time, these kids will be dying before their parents, losing limbs and eyesight. Then, the parents will be complaining that the schools never did anything.

    I’m trying not to get too ramped up over this, but it’s just too frequent that people don’t want to know about a problem until it becomes really bad, upon which point they begin to complain that no one brought it up earlier. *sigh* Doctors don’t have it any easier than schools would. I’ve seen it too often that people will complain about how horribly insensitive a doctor is for bringing up a patient’s weight in an unrelated office visit no matter how the doctor did so, and then after they either lose the weight or their health finally fails, they complain about how their terrible doctor never said anything to them.

    You can’t win for losing on this type of subject.

    I feel that a nonjudgmental, uniform letter home to the family along the lines of what I outlined above must be sent. We can’t just wait until this entire generation of children begins dropping dead before we acknowledge some sort of problem, even in a subtle way.

  6. Elisa says:

    An obese child likely has obese parents. Until the parents get their act together it does not matter how many letters the school sends home…nothing will change for that child. Unfortunately, in those homes, I bet the letter is immediately discarded never to be thought on again. It would be nice to think maybe it would be the catalyst for the parents to change but likely not. All I can see is this further harming a child who doesn’t understand why they are being called fat. (especially when, yes, they do look like all their overweight peers) The child will get no help from the school and no help at home. This sets up so many emotional and mental hurdles for this young child’s future. Who then does that letter most harm? The innocent child. That worries me because that was me.

    While I do not want any child to be left to fall through the cracks, like I was, I do not think the answer is in embarrassing a child by weighing them at school. Schools are for education not health matters. I feel it should be kept in the doctor’s office. Yes for those without health care that may mean no help until they are old enough to seek it out themselves. I would much rather a child not hear they are fat and grow into a mentally healthy individual than the alternative. And for some children they do outgrow that baby fat stage so why harm their delicate psyche anymore than necessary? Isn’t childhood hard enough for them? By not hearing from random people that they are fat that child may get through their innocent years “unscathed” by those kind of biting remarks. At least I wish it had been that way for me.

  7. BlessedMama says:

    I strongly believe that if a child is under 13, and a parent knows that child is overweight, then the parent should not tell the child they are overweight, but instead correct the child’s eating habits and increase exercise. A child that young cannot bear the responsibility of tackling their weight issue, and a less than careful words from a parent can cause lifelong image issues. I do believe that if a child is overweight, a parent has to take charge and help that child. A parent should not ignore the matter. If a child is a teen, that child already knows they are overweight without anyone telling them. They would probably appreciate help from their parents in terms of food choices, portions and exercise. It should be done very gently by the parent to protect the self-esteem of the child.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    I do not think that parents of overweight children are helped by a letter informing/reminding them that their children are overweight. What would help parents of all children (overweight or not) is a commitment by the school to help with a healthy lifestyle. I have been shocked by school lunch choices, frequent bake sales, policies that allow/encourage cake on every child’s birthday and candy for every holiday. “Cooking” clubs that make cookies, cupcakes and not other healthy recipes. Honestly, since I became a mother 9+ years ago I often feel like I’m the only person that ever gives my children healthy food. Everyone else (schools included) wants to be the fun person/organization that gives kids “fun” food. Why does every fun activity have to include food. What about crafts, games, etc. to celebrate. That’s where I’d like to see the school nurse help…not a letter home.

  9. Marie says:

    My son had a situation which is a little diffrent. He is in 9th grade and the school health aide pulled him from class to tell him he was too thin. She grilled him on everything he has had to eat and drink for the last 2 days. He was very upset because he felt very embarrassed and humiliated that she was telling him something is wrong with him. He is already teased by kids about his weight. He eats 3 meals a day and snacks and goes to a dr regularly and has been deemed perfectly healthy. We discussed with his dr his weight and she said she would never recommend for him to force himself to eat more to gain weight, which is what basically what the school health aide was telling him to do. He is also a year round school athlete and is one of the top in his sport. He is just very tall for his age and just naturally thin as well as all my kids. The health aide had no business evaluating him in the manner that she did!

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