Hey Uncle Sam, Mind Your Own Business

Among schools that measure Body Mass Index, it is common to send the child’s parents a letter that states the findings, along with any recommendations for further evaluation and treatment. The previously mentioned “Colorado Healthy Weight Toolkit” includes an example of the opt-out form that parents can sign if they want no part of this. It explains the purpose of the Growth Screening Program and how the screenings take place in privacy, supervised by the school nurse; and why the school wants any additional information it seeks from the family.

Today we look at the kinds of questions that schools have been asking parents. A 2010 publication from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights offers a sample questionnaire that includes sensible queries about who is legally responsible for the child, and pre-existing health problems, and medications, known allergies, and so forth. It also asks such questions as…

What does your child do when not in school?
Please describe your child’s behavior at home?
Have there been any important changes within the family during the last 3 years?
What time does your child go to bed at night?
What methods of discipline are used with your child at home?
What is your child’s reaction to discipline?

The aforementioned “Colorado Healthy Weight Toolkit” sample intake form contains places to enter the child’s height, weight, BMI, and blood pressure. Then, a number of boxes are to be checked if there is a history of bullying, low self-esteem, school avoidance, depression, suicidal ideation, or inadequate family resources caused by poverty, homelessness, or crisis.

For girls, there is a checkbox pertinent to heavy or irregular menstrual cycles. Also inquired about is orthopedic pain — strangely, only if it is located below the waist. Back, neck, shoulder and rib pain seems to have no claim on the school’s attention. Parents and educators are also expected to make note of inappropriate sleep patterns, odor complaints, bowel or bladder accidents, skin or wound problems, severe psychological issues, emotional crisis, and acanthosis nigricans. This last item is a skin condition that can indicate diabetes, but which might be difficult to check for, because it tends to show up in the armpits, navel, groin, or under the breasts.

Privacy standards

That some parents regard all this as intrusive, and even abusive, behavior on the part of the authorities, does not come as a total surprise. Meanwhile, one problem that school staff members are supposed to be on the alert for is abusive parents, and reporting suspicious details to law enforcement entities is an official duty.

Certain parents, no matter what their reason — and indeed, one of their talking points is that they do not, as free Americans and taxpayers, need to proffer a reason — do not want the school to give any attention to some of these issues. Even less, do they want the sensitive information entered into any sort of permanent record.

This tension is one of the many factors complicating the effort to lower childhood obesity rates.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Childhood Obesity Legislation — 2013 Update of Policy Options,” NCSL.org, 03/01/14
Source: “Guidelines for Educators and Administrators for Implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,” MemberClicks.net, 2010
Source: “Colorado Healthy Weight Toolkit,” CDE.state.co.us, 12/01/14
Image by Michael B. Smith/CC BY 2.0

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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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