Students Tracked With ‘Fat Monitors’ to Curb Obesity

The Parkway school district in Missouri is testing out new ‘fat monitors' that track students' physical activity.

The district purchased the 400 electronic devices to track 2,500 elementary students' physical activity and monitor their heart rate, calories burned, steps taken, and even sleep patterns on a watch-like display, writes Emily Johnston at the Heartlander.

The Polar Active monitors will first be used on students during their gym classes this spring and then, if they work out to be successful, 24/7 after that. Teachers will be able to access the data collected via – where they can then view, analyze, and evaluate their students' progress.

Lisa Snell, Reason Foundation's director of education and child welfare, said:

"This is another sign of public schools encroaching on the purview of the parents.

"The sentiments are in the right place, but it seems highly inappropriate as official school policy. It crosses the line."

Cathy Kelly, communications coordinator for Parkway School District, said that after the district ran a pilot program with the monitors in spring 2011 and have since decided to purchase more monitors and expand the pilot.

The district must first get parent consent before they fully implementing the program, she confirmed.

Kelly said:

"The primary objective is to communicate with students.

"It seems to be an effective tool and can help students set goals for themselves."

Around a third of Parkway students are considered overweight. This follows the national trend of almost one in three American students being overweight.

"Parents said that health education was a priority for them," Kelly said.

"We want to teach our kids how to lead healthy, more active lifestyles."

Despite such potential benefits of making students responsible for achieving their own fitness goals and help them score higher on reading and math exams, Snell said schools shouldn't monitor its students so closely or spend so much on fitness.

Snell said:

"Their core mission should not be to reduce obesity in America.

"It should be to educate."

If the program is voluntary, or parents seek out a school that emphasizes physical education, these concerns dissipate, Snell said.

Public schools in New Jersey and New York have already toyed with using monitors to help their students' health and weight.

In the spring, the athletics chair for Bay Shore schools will hand out 10 Polar Active monitors to selected overweight students. The $90 wristwatch-like devices count heartbeats, detect motion and even track students' sleeping habits in a bid to combat obesity, writes Mary Kay Linge at the New York Post.

The devices have already raised privacy concerns among some parents and observers in school districts in St. Louis and South Orange, NJ, where they have already been implemented.

But Ted Nagengast, the Bay Shore athletics chair, defended the measure, saying:

"It's a great reinforcement in fighting the obesity epidemic. It tells kids, in real time, ‘Am I active? Am I not active?' We want to give kids the opportunity to become active."

Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union disagreed:

"When you get into monitoring people's biological vital signs, that's a pretty intrusive measurement.

"There are key privacy interests at play."

Stanley believes parents must have a right to say in how long the data will be stored and who will have access to it.

"A program like this should only be voluntary. Nobody should be forced to reveal biological indicators," he said.

02 16, 2012
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