Schools and IDEA Disabilities

The journal Palaestra (Vol. 30, No. 2) published an article that provided a thorough explanation and program outline for how schools can identify and evaluate children “who are obese with low physical fitness or deficiencies in gross motor skills, as having a disability and able to receive appropriate programming.” It explains,

Obesity in itself would not qualify a child or youth to be recognized as disabled under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Other Health Impairment category or allow for special education services to be received. However, if a child or youth was obese and also demonstrated deficits in physical fitness, psycho-social development, and school performance, then the child could potentially qualify as disabled.

The authors provide long lists (See Table 1 on Page 18) of the physical and psychological effects of obesity on the young, along with pertinent academic references. Here we concentrate on the list of ways in which obesity impedes progress in achieving superior grades.

Obesity in childhood can lead to absenteeism in the early years of schooling, and various psychological problems later. Overweight and obesity are associated with “poor gross motor skill development.” As might be expected in the traditional setup, obese kids will not do well in Physical Education classes, athletics, and intramural contests.

Disregarding, as it always does, the truth or falsity in individual cases, prejudice can cause obese children to be perceived as less intelligent and as having lower grades. They also are “graded” by their peers in disrespectful and cruel ways. They may be socially ostracized, with being picked last for sports teams as the typical example. They are perceived as lazy, unattractive, and possibly unhygienic. In changing rooms and shower rooms, they are humiliated.

The collective weight of all these negative experiences and emotions can cause havoc, in different but equally painful ways for both sexes. Obese girls were deemed more likely than boys to “exhibit acting out behaviors (i.e., arguing and fighting).”

Big responsibility

Schools have a vested interest in nurturing successful academic careers, and of course they want to do their best to make that possible. The authors explain that since 95% of American kids attend schools (as of about 10 years ago, anyway)…

Schools have been considered a logical and attractive setting to target and reach children who are overweight or obese through programming and intervention, as most children and youth spend 6 to 8 hours a day, approximately 180 days a year in this setting… Schools have as much and probably more continuous and intensive contact with these children and youth during 5 to 18 years of their life except for their parents. Further, schools generally have the appropriate facilities and equipment to promote high-intensity activities through evidence-based physical education programs.

In a previous post we saw how the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act resulted from the need to sort out those who need special help from those who do not. The authors of “Childhood Obesity: Classification as an IDEA Disability” go into greater detail about the five questions that must be asked and answered in order to make these decisions. But why?

In order to provide for children with disabilities a continuum of services that can provide appropriate interventions for group and individual needs, and prevent worse problems. Proponents established that there must be a “comprehensive evidence-based strategy in which the physical education programs play an integral role.” The authors went on to say,

Key features of the behavioral and nutrition components of an obesity prevention program must include all individuals in the child’s life who impact the child’s choices: parents and other family members, teachers, school nurse, physicians, physical education instructors, etc.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Childhood Obesity: Classification as an IDEA Disability,”, 2016
Image by Hong Seung-hui/CC BY 2.0/

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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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