‘Grading and Labeling’ Not Viable Solutions to Obesity, Study Shows

(Photo: Debora Cartagena. Creative Commons)

(Photo: Debora Cartagena. Creative Commons)

A study has been released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concerning the effects of student body-mass index report cards, which are currently issued in many schools across the country, that shows ‘grading’ obesity levels accomplishes little.

New York City public schools began providing students with these BMI assessments a decade ago, hoping that the information would spur the fight against the obesity epidemic in the country’s largest school system.

The problem was that being graded as “fat” does not lead to weight loss, especially for students who are close to the “needs improvement” weight level.

“It’s not enough just to get the information out there,” said one of the authors, Syracuse University education and economics professor Amy Ellen Schwartz. “You have to get it to people in a way that’s actionable.”

New York’s 1.1 million students were weighed and measured and then given report cards which included their BMI, weight percentile, and, until it was eliminated last year, a classification of underweight, healthy weight, overweight, or obese. Anyone below the healthy weight designation was directed to consult a health care professional.

After the study was completed, the language was changed from overweight or obese to “needs improvement.” The new report is focused on communicating with kids about eating habits and the amounts of physical activity necessary for good health, reported to Jennifer Peltz of the Associated Press.

Schwartz, Columbia University economist Douglas Almond, and Columbia graduate student Ajin Lee used the four years of measurements for all NYC public school students and examined boy and girl students who were barely over the overweight or obese category for their age.

The results indicated that those girls who were over the average weight thresholds had not lost weight. The average overweight girl increased a little in weight compared to those peers just below the “needs improvement line.”

In recent years, child obesity in the US has remained static and has even declined among preschoolers. But over one-third of young people and adolescents across the country were obese or overweight in 2012, according to information from the CDC.

Another new research project shows that even with higher the levels of education, females who are obese have double the possibility of being depressed compared to women of a healthy weight.

The researchers used standard weight categories, which are normal weight (BMI 18.5-24.9), overweight (BMI 25-29.9), obese I (30-34.9), obese II (35-39.9), and obese III (BMI greater than 39.9). The classifications relate to body-fat levels and are predictors of the possibility of developing health problems related to obesity.

Lead author Ashley Kranjac, a postdoctoral fellow in population health at Rice University, said:

“I was surprised by the finding. Usually higher education is associated with all the good things, like higher income, better neighborhoods, greater access to health care, and better overall health, and you’d never think education and obesity combined could have this effect on mental health.”

David Ruth-Rice, writing for Futurity, reports the research used a random sample of 1,928 healthy women from 35 to 80. Their information was garnered from New York State Department of Motor Vehicle records and the Health Care Finance Association. The study was published in the journal Obesity Research and Clinical Practice.

Prior research has shown that women with less education are more likely to be depressed. But the sociologists from Rice found that women at the obese I level have twice the possibility to suffer from depression compared to females of average weight and the same tier of education.

Participants completed the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale questionnaire. The results supported the idea that obesity is a major stressor for females. Kranjac said that women have more difficulties and face more collective disadvantages than do men when they are overweight or obese. Robert Nauert, Ph.D. of PsychCentral quoted Kranjac:

“By studying this association in healthy women without other chronic diseases or disorders, we are better able to understand the associations between depression, increased weight status and the impact of educational attainment,”she added.