If I said the term “fat letters,” would you know what I was talking about? A fat letter is a letter sent home from school telling a parent that their child is either obese or overweight.
This year, Toronto schools are introducing BMI testing for statistical purposes. 160 schools across the city will be tested, including 12,000 students. Students can volunteer to participate and they will only find out their BMI if they ask. Individual results will not be sent home to parents, which some are applauding and others are questioning.
There is an obesity problem. That cannot be denied. In Canada, 30 per cent of children are either overweight or obese, according to Statistics Canada, and there is no reason to believe that number is getting lower.
And testing children, but not making it necessary to tell parents if they are overweight, does little in terms of combatting the trend.
It’s helpful in terms of finding out what proportion of kids are overweight or obese, sure, but realistically does little more than tell us what we already know. We need to fix it.
And to fix it, we need concrete steps.
Telling a parent, “Hey, your child is not the weight they should be. Let’s talk about what we can do to help you help them,” would not be unhelpful. Maybe some parents really aren’t aware their child is at risk for a number of health issues, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and psychosocial effects, among other symptoms.. Maybe they don’t know what to do.
What there should be is a plan following these tests to make a lasting, significant impact, as opposed to another statement on how we need to act.
The realistic hesitation here is that by sending notes home addressing the fact that a child is overweight or obese, those kids would be at risk of being bullied.
Are we looking at this problem the wrong way? By averting our eyes and being extra careful not to say the word “obese,” we are simply delaying change.
We should be addressing the issue in a straight-forward way, so that by the time these kids are teens, they understand the importance of eating healthy and being active.
Obesity can be a sensitive topic, but ignoring it altogether is not going to make it go away. Let’s work toward an answer (albeit a complex one), not determine yet again there is a problem.