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Do school assessments really help?

Classifying children as overweight or obese in school reports does not precede any short term changes in BMI. This is the conclusion of a collaborative study from New York University and Columbia University. In the USA, public health officials have called for early identification of weight and therefore subsequent prevention of obesity, the suggestion is that children should be told, through reports sent to their parents, whether they are becoming overweight or obese. However, by doing this, many argue that children’s self-esteem will be negatively affected. In 2007-08 public schools in New York City adopted fitness assessments that did just this, if students were deemed to be ‘unhealthy’ they were informed and advised to see a healthcare provider for more information.

This study specifically looked at girls in high school who were near the ‘healthy weight – overweight’ threshold. The researchers found that when students were told that they were overweight, it lead to a small rise in BMI for the following year. This was particularly noticeable in newly overweight students and high school seniors. The authors are quick to point out that the results only reflect the trend in overweight female students, and shouldn’t be extrapolated onto other students, however they do also emphasise that informing students of their weight status in such a way may not actually result in the desired effect, and may even have a negative impact. They are looking to work closely with the school agencies in order to develop the assessments and make them more useful.

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