A majority of the Massachusetts Public Health Council has voted in favor of Massachusetts public schools to cease sending controversial letters to parents regarding their children’s weight, following widespread criticism that the practice led to bullying and excessive costs for schools.
For the past four years, Massachusetts public schools have annually monitored students’ weight and height through screenings in grades one, four, seven and ten, writes Kate Royals of MassLive. It will continue, and officials say the data is used to identify obesity problems and determine possible system-wide solutions.
The director of the state health department bureau that runs the screening program, Carlene Pavlos, says the data collection has led to numerous successes.
“The data we have collected through this core initiative has been key to our success,” he said.
Pavlos said that three years of data they collected from the program show a consistent decrease of student’s height and weight, known as body mass index, of 2.4 % statewide.
However, sending the results to parents has been a delicate subject for the three years since the health initiative began, resulting in “concerns regarding confidentiality, bullying and impact on students’ self image,” according to a presentation made to the council. Schools had complained that mailing the letters was expensive and that they led to these students being teased.
The Public Health Council voted 10-1 in favor of removing the requirement for schools to send home letters to parents informing them of their child’s body mass index. The one opposing vote came from Dr. Harold Cox, council member and associate dean at Boston University School of Public Health.
“I think the council made the wrong decision,” Cox told MassLive. “I believe that if you’re going to collect the data, then there’s also a requirement that we should give that data to parents.”
Although he admitted to concerns over bullying, he said he believed there should have been “another mechanism” put in place to get the information to the parents instead of removing the requirement altogether.
According to the Department of Public Health presentation, parents can make a request for their child’s scores with the school. Cox nonetheless expressed concern that because schools are no longer required to share the information with parents via letter, they may now have the option not to share it at all.
According to The Global Dispatch, the new rules eliminate the required parental notification and instead allow school districts to make the information available to parents or guardians upon written request.
“Not all parents may be aware that their child may be reaching an unhealthy weight status and by not providing this information as it is collected increases the likelihood that the child will continue increasing in weight,” wrote M. Laurette Hughes, a registered nurse who said she worked for 15 years in school districts in Vermont and Boston.
Nearly one-third of all US children are overweight or obese.