Task Force Recommends Tracking Body Mass Index

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Here, from Huffington Post, is an illumination of one aspect of the proposed Healthy Choices Act. The article was written by Penny Lee, Executive Director of the Campaign to End Obesity. Her job is to cross-pollinate the thoughts of many powerful interests, and to come up with ideas that can be forged into federal policy. Public health should be our first concern, although scholars and industry representatives are listened to, along with associations concerned with health.

The full disclosure is that Lee runs what is described as a “public affairs and government relations firm,” and her expertise is in such areas as “expert advocacy, issue management, coalition management and strategic advisory services.” In other words, we’re listening to a professional spin doctor, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We understand that Lee’s job is not only to formulate recommendations, but to explain them to the public in such a way that they will be endorsed by a public willing to accept even more laws aimed at controlling behavior. Lee defines what she is talking about:

Body Mass Index (BMI) is the core measurement used to determine if a patient is overweight or obese… By measuring and tracking BMI, doctors and patients together can monitor, address or help prevent the onset of illnesses such as heart disease and stroke, diabetes, arthritis, dementia and many forms of cancer.

This is an element of the Healthy Choices Bill recently introduced by Rep. Ron Kind, which has yet to be voted on. The object is to make sure that BMI would be considered a vital sign, like blood pressure; measured and noted on kids’ vaccination records, and immortalized in everyone’s electronic medical records.

Lee’s Tuesday, May 11 article tells us more about the importance of BMI tracking, and why it is one of the 70 recommendations delivered by Michelle Obama and the inter-agency Task Force on Childhood Obesity. It would like for it to be a legal requirement that pediatricians routinely measure the Body Mass Index of every child. Lee says this should be done at “every patient encounter,” in other words, during every appointment, which could be viewed as a bit excessive.

In Overweight: What Kids Say, Dr. Pretlow reports on his investigation of the opinions and attitudes of the kids we are trying to help. He notes that some school districts already have annual weight-screening programs in place. These programs include notifying parents and providing them with educational materials. He sees school weight-screening programs as useful, and parents seem okay with the idea. However, the kids aren’t convinced. Here are a few reactions from girls in the 12-to-15 age group:

** “Never once have I been weighed at school without some idiot in the background looking over my shoulder and laughing at my weight.”

** “I know lots of people [who] refused to get on the scales at school, the teacher just guessed how much they weighed.”

** “It’s so horrible I don’t sleep for like a week before it happens… [I]t causes so much stress.”

** “I don’t need people at school (other students or even the nurse) teasing me.”

** “That is by far the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard of! It’s as if the government wants the overweight kids to be even more bullied and teased than they already are!”

So, the reviews are mixed. It looks like the mandatory BMI tracking will happen, but there could be unintended consequences. Further down the line, patient records could be used to deny insurance, since any number of adult health problems can be traced back to childhood obesity. And it’s just, in general, kind of a shame that something as potentially embarrassing should be part of a person’s permanent record for the rest of his or her life.

Whatever our feelings about BMI testing and documentation, Penny Lee urges us to call (202) 224-3121 and let our representatives in Washington know our views on this and other aspects of the Healthy Choices Act.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Full Picture of America’s Health Includes BMI as a Vital Sign,” Huffington Post, 05/05/10
Source: “President’s Obesity Task Force Findings Should be a Mandate for Congress,” Huffington Post, 05/11/10
Source: “Overweight: What Kids Say,” Amazon.com
Image by Brenda-Starr, used under its Creative Commons license.

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