Taking Obesity Too Much to Heart
If your daughter's school tries to put her BMI in her permanent file, for heaven's sake opt out.


Jennifer Graham

We have in our house a Valentine tree, under which I have been told to place all incoming missives from Cupid.

It’s actually a ragged little poinsettia left over from the last gift-giving holiday, which was — may I growl? — a mere seven weeks ago. But when Katherine, who is seven, announced that we needed a Valentine tree, the poinsettia was called into service. Better it than my good ficus.

Valentine’s Day, when you’re in the first grade, is a very big deal; the class instructions came home last month. Katherine is to bring 21 cards, one for each child in the class, just like I did back when Nixon was president. Under President Obama, however, there’s a twist: no candy allowed. Instead, Katherine and her classmates will exchange paper cards devoid of lollipops and eat a “healthy red snack” during their party. What is a healthy red snack? Radishes? Who knows? No one is salivating in anticipation.

And so begins Michelle Obama’s War on Fat People: with a crackdown on small pleasures. Here in the suburbs of Boston, the local high school has removed candy bars and soft drinks from vending machines; students can buy only water and sports drinks. In the elementary school, children may no longer bring in cupcakes to celebrate a birthday, although they are free to distribute celebratory plastic trinkets (as long as they don’t, in any education bureaucrat’s fevered imagination, resemble weapons of any kind).

Meanwhile, in addition to measuring and weighing our children, Massachusetts schools are now calculating their body-mass indices, as Arkansas and New York schools do. Beginning this year, first-, fourth-, seventh-, and tenth-graders will have their body-mass index noted in their permanent files, unless their parents opt out. The program began in my school district this year; by 2011, it will be mandatory statewide.

The screenings are private, the school assured me, and their purpose, it said, is benign. The information will be used to write letters to parents, “to give you information about your child’s weight status and ideas for living a healthy life.” Thanks, but I don’t need lectures on nutrition from a school system that serves hot dogs and nachos for lunch. (One day next week, the meal at our middle school is to be “double cheeseburger and bag of chips.”)