Grading on a Scale

As a child, I spent more time than I care to remember hiding in the pantry at home, eating away feelings I couldn't process. Maybe my brain was wired in such a way that I was just prone to falling prey to eating disorders, or maybe my body image issues stemmed from growing too tall too quickly. I'm not sure. But I'll bet skipping training bras in the second grade and borrowing my petite mother's jeans the same year (she stands 5' 1'') probably had something to do with it all.

I eventually averaged out, reaching my adult height of 5'6'' at the age of 13. That's  when my hips developed and my curves made me feel even more out of place with the Caucasian girls I went to school with. I was bingeing before I knew it was a word and by the time I was 15, I was in denial about my bulimia.

And almost all of the hell I put myself through manifested from within. I can't even imagine having had to deal with having my school measure my BMI (body mass index) and stick a corresponding grade on my report card.

Can you?

Can you imagine being a child with any bit of uncertainty about themselves and their bodies (think about that for a minute) and suddenly have the requirement of a BMI grade thrown at you?  Eating disordered or not, rare is it that a child of any age is self-assured enough that a little number such as that won't have some kind of negative effect on them.

Before I go any further, let's talk about BMI. I have never been a fan of this particular acronym; mainly because it's been a cause of --- let's just call it frustration--- since I learned of its existence. BMI is nothing more than a measure of body fat for an individual taken against their height and weight. Figure out your number and then the BMI scale will tell you if you are underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. I was 156 pounds in high school, wore a size 10, had curves that didn't come into vogue until after Jennifer Lopez insured her ass, and played varsity tennis. And according to the BMI scale, I was overweight (bordering on obese.) I also was a full-fledged bulimic.

One of my best friends is also 5'6''. She's a teeny little thing with a size four ring finger (I wear a 7) and fits in the underweight to normal range on the BMI scale depending on the day. As an adult who has finally come to terms with different body types, bone structures, muscle mass, and every other little physiological fact that makes us unique, I understand that my friend and I only have  height in common. I understand that her being smaller than me does not make make me fat by default. But as an insecure teenager?

Hell no.

Slate.com has a very informative piece on the history of the BMI. The well-written ladies over at The F-word paraphrased and added their own commentary here.

And I quote:

Here’s the kicker: Like Quetelet, Keys never intended for BMI to be used in this way.  In fact, his original paper warned against using BMI for individual diagnoses, since the equation ignores variables like a person’s age or gender, and I would also add, also their ethnicity, frame size and muscle mass ratio. Writes Singer-Vine:

It’s one thing to estimate the average percent body fat for large groups with diverse builds, Keys argued, but quite another to slap a number and label on someone without regard for these factors…  Now Keys’ misgivings are gaining traction across the world of medicine: BMI simply doesn’t work when it comes to individual measurements. --- source: The F-Word

Now, tell me why these schools think it a good idea to add a number that marks us all yet fails to take into account all the factors that help to determine it? I won't argue that childhood obesity is a problem that needs to be addressed, but is this the way to approach it? Take out the sugar-laden vending machines. Maybe stop cutting back on physical education programs and extra curricular activities. Hell, bring in Jamie Oliver and stage a Food Revolution to help teach kids and their families how to eat and cook healthier. But this?

Turns out even The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) wanted make sure the new policy's potential risk to students was reduced. Following are the CDC guidelines from their Executive Summary on the matter:

To reduce the risk of harming students, BMI measurement programs should adhere to the following safeguards (1) introduce the program to school staff and community members and obtain parental consent, (2) train staff in administering the program (ideally, implementation will be led by a highly qualifi ed staff member, such as the school nurse), (3) establish safeguards to protect student privacy, (4) obtain and use accurate equipment, (5) accurately calculate and interpret the data, (6) develop efficient data collection procedures, (7) avoid using BMI results to evaluate student or teacher performance, and BMI (8) regularly evaluate the program and its intended outcomes and unintended consequences -- source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

I, for one, am wholeheartedly against this. Thankfully, I am not the only one. Cheryl Rainfield and Sarah Littman have started a petition, (which you can sign directly on my sidebar) in an effort to put an end to what we consider a very dangerous practice. Please, take a moment to sign.

I will also go on record now with this statement: If my only option for my 3-year-old daughter's future education involves her being subjected to being graded on what the scale says, I will search for another option. She will already have societal pressures, magazine covers, Barbie dolls, Hollywood starlets, and her own interpretation of body image to deal with. And I'll be damned if I let her report card add to the reasons I can only hope she avoids the same path I traveled before I found myself.