Schools and Obesity Tracking

The previous post asked, “Should Schools Stay in Their Lane?” What exactly is their lane, or area of competency and responsibility? This turns out to be a very complicated question. What ought schools to be doing about obesity, and on whose say-so? What happens if they go too far or don’t go far enough? How much of a child’s personal life is none of the schools’ business anyway? It is a sprawling area of inquiry, so we will look at some of the societal institutions that contribute input.

What gets recorded?

For the convenience of anyone who wishes to refresh their Body Mass Index knowledge, here are several previous posts that cover this topic:

For now, this is the measurement standard most widely used. One reason for not wanting to change is that switching to a different system would make longitudinal studies more difficult. When statistics are to be compared, the more alike they are, the better. Still, in some quarters BMI is falling out of favor.

Leaving aside the pros and cons of various methods, why do local, state, and federal agencies concern themselves with weighing and measuring school kids?

Extra weight is likely to correlate with other things that should have an eye kept on them — things like hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and on and on. Some parents and legislators believe that very close attention should be paid by the school system, while others do not believe that the schools should be concerned with matters of physical health at all. The debate around that has only become more heated since COVID-19.

A 2017 document from Colorado’s Department of Public Health & Environment reflects years of objective study and increasing consciousness. At the time of publication, the state identified nearly one in five high school students as overweight or obese, and more than one in four children, which is an even worse ratio. And Colorado was one of the top three states!

The S-word

Back in 2013, the state had boldly declared tackling obesity as a “winnable battle.” A couple of years later the state government announced that…

[…] healthy eating, active living and obesity prevention have been designated as a flagship priority in the plan, Shaping a State of Health (2015-2019)…

STATEWIDE GOAL: Reverse the upward obesity trend by aligning efforts to develop a culture of health… Intensify efforts to create conditions to achieve healthy weight across the lifespan… Increase statewide capacity for coordinated obesity surveillance.

And that S-word, surveillance, is where a lot of people pull the brake cord and jump off the anti-obesity train. They feel that kids are already scrutinized far too closely for their own and their families’ good. A lot of Americans want no part of a system that includes screening, referrals, and record-keeping. They regard this observation, and what appears to them as an obsessive and excessive concern, as repugnant, and are against it on principle.

They have also accrued evidence that it doesn’t necessarily help. Some studies show that when certain kinds of attention are paid to body weight, eating disorders are likely to increase.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Overweight and Obesity in Colorado,”, 2017
Image by Elizabeth Lloyd/CC BY 2.0

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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