Children – Health vs Weight vs BMI

The state of  Michigan wants to start tracking the BMI of children (under 18). Those in charge are right – weight problems are bad and only getting worse. But simply tracking BMI may not be the best solution, especially if “your child needs to lose weight” is the conversation health care providers are urged to have when a child’s BMI is outside of the “healthy” or “normal” range. And here’s why:

  1. BMI as a clear-cut measurement isn’t accurate. I have to think this is especially true with children who are growing and changing constantly. Younger children might actually be carrying around what’s known as “baby fat” and others may be about to have growth spurt. I know, without a doubt, many children are actually, and sometimes significantly overweight.
  2. I never think it’s OK to say a child needs to lose weight. I always think it’s OK, regardless of weight, to say a child needs to be healthy. I didn’t start worrying about my weight until I started going through puberty. I think it was about 6th or 7th grade I got on a scale, oblivious to the world around me, having some insight into my weight, and was over 100 pounds. I’d always been a “skinny” kid. In fact, many people would comment on it. I was a picky eater, but don’t worry. I ate my share! Anyway, I got on that scale. I still remember where exactly we were in the school, who took my weight, even what I was wearing. And the lady said, “That can’t be right. No way you weigh that much!!!” She was definitely overweight, which I honestly don’t know if I ever noticed until then. But to see her, this overweight woman, appalled at my weight was really… It was heart-breaking. I’d never been embarrassed of my weight until then. And suddenly not only did I not want anyone to know what I weighed, I was ashamed of it. I wish I had a good concept of how tall I was back then. I was definitely at a perfectly healthy size. It was around the same time I’d started developing hips and breasts, so a perfect time to give a girl a complex. It’s sad that my weight issues started then. Into high school I only gained about 30-35 more pounds, staying at a weight of about 130-140 at 5’7″. And I think I was probably even more curvy at that point, so I am truly heart-broken an adult would make a 12 year old child feel fat. And I think it’s important, rather than obsessing over a number on a scale to look at the person and look at their habits and comment that way. I definitely don’t think I was overweight, and the only thing that compelled her to say as such was the number, not the way I looked. She pointed out that I was the only girl so far over 100 pounds (great, thanks!), but then, I’m sure after seeing my face, said, “Well, you don’t LOOK like you’re 100 pounds. That’s why I’m so surprised.” That woman. Oh, that woman. I guess instead of feeling anger toward her, I should feel pity toward her daughter. Realistically, I know I didn’t need to lose weight. I did, however, need to eat healthier. I don’t think my lack of health, though, showed in my weight. Honestly, I don’t.
  3. Which is why, instead of focusing on a number on a scale, or a number on a height/weight chart, these doctors should be focusing on healthy. And those conversations should not be restricted only to the overweight children and parents. Rather, that information should be shared with ALL patients. Because despite the fact that one woman made a spectacle, I truly wasn’t overweight. And think I would have been perfectly healthy on a BMI scale. The thing the lady was failing to see was that I was also the only girl who had come through that was well over 5 foot. Many girls in my class didn’t go through puberty until much later, which meant they hit their growth spurts much later. So if a doctor were looking at me on a BMI chart, I would have been normal. But I still needed that lecture on health. Children are very receptive to new things, and then preaching back their learning at home! Maybe what Michigan should invest in are:
  • Healthier lunches – I don’t think the public school system’s lunch has changed much since I went to school. I remember very few (if any) fresh fruits and veggies. Everything was canned. And many lunches included things like hot dogs, fried chicken, breads and gravy. I know a cheap way to fill up a child is through cheap carbs, but it’s not much more expensive to get whole grain breads, real, un-fried meats, and avoid fat-based sauces. I know kids don’t like fresh fruits and veggies as much as mashed potatoes, gravy and a roll. But if the state is going to make an impact, start impacting a child’s palette. As a child, I don’t like cooked carrots out of a can, but I do like fresh carrots. I don’t like fruit cocktail (probably in sugary juices), but I do like fresh strawberries, watermelon, apples and oranges. I may not like salad without a heaping glob of ranch dressing, but I think it’s fun to dip salad veggies like cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, sweet peppers, broccoli and cauliflower into a ranch-flavored low-fat/low-calorie dip. Add a few black olives and I’m in heaven! A lot of my disdain for cooked vegetables came from the crap we were served in school lunches. If you saw the cooked carrots. Oh, for the love of a child’s churning stomach, the carrots, you’d know what I mean. And the one awful (overweight) teacher who forced us to eat EVERYTHING? I wanted to cry. Anyway, I’m digressing. My point is, I’m sure it’s more expensive to serve fresh foods. But it will also be healthier. Maybe the state of Michigan could invest in healthier school lunches, building habits of eating well-rounded meals that actually taste good, rather than spending money tracking the ever-growing obesity epidemic. Why not spend money DOING something, rather than tracking something?
  • PE programs that are regular, and cater to different fitness levels. There were some things in PE I LOVED. Other things I hated. But when we got into junior high, a time we needed to be most active as our bodies were changing, we switched PE teachers. The new teacher had a much more relaxed (read: lazy) approach to teaching. Rather than leading the entire class in something fun and active, he’d play sports with the boys, leaving us girls to fend for ourselves. Sometimes quite literally. Occasionally we’d play a sport. But most days we’d stand around gossiping and fighting. I can’t count the number of petty 7th grade arguments that started and spun out of control in our unsupervised PE class. That teacher was awful. And selfish. We had one hour a day to be active, and what did he do? Made sure HE was active, probably so he could keep his weight off and sleep with a high schooler. No, seriously. They got married (after he divorced his wife at the time – after she found out about the affair – after the rest of the town already knew). Schools should have a program with specific goals, but also recognize that like some students aren’t good at math, some students aren’t as athletically challenged. Find ways to make it fun for everyone, not a stage for humiliation. Nothing makes an uncoordinated, overweight or awkward teenager more so than stepping into the spotlight. There’s a way to make it work for everyone. And your job as a PE teacher is to find that way!
  • Educate parents – Spend some time and money educating parents. Sometimes I think parents feed their children what they’re feeding them because THEY want to eat it. But mostly, I believe parents either don’t know any better, don’t know how, or simply are overwhelmed. Use the KISS philosophy. Everything is so complicated now. I complain about this all the time. You can’t just eat fresh produce, you have to eat organic produce for these 12 types of produce, or you may as well not eat them. And you should eat whole grains, but the whole grains in most cereal really doesn’t count because of all of the sugar in the cereal. Why not teach parents to read labels? Teach them the basics, and give them some situations for making the best choices. Teach them how to stretch a whole chicken rather than buying the more expensive individual chicken breasts. Show them how to cut up fruits and veggies right when you get them home so they last longer, are easier to use on hectic nights, and can easily round out almost any meal. If the classes are longer-running or for those interested, teach them how to use less-popular ingredients like squash, beets, leeks, tomatillos, and other seasonal veggies. Then when those fruits and veggies come into season and are the most affordable, they’re excited to buy them, use the recipe and create even more cost-efficient meals. SHOW THEM how making meals at home can be time-efficient and cheaper than hitting the drive through or making boxed or frozen meals. And show them how it can be fun family time.
  • Finally, give some tax incentives or insurance rate deductions for healthy lifestyles resulting in improved health or maintaining healthy results. Base those reductions on body fat percentage, cholesterol level, glucose level, blood pressure and other tests that have been proven to show real health. Offer a range of rates, and incentives to get to the next level. Offer affordable family rates for outdoor activities such as family fun runs on 5K days. Offer a safe place for children to play outdoors, encouraging parents to participate. For example, cities could hold an outdoor event with healthy snacks a few times during the comfortable outdoor seasons. Most cities offer these events already. Why not associate state and county fairs with healthier more active options, and not funnel cakes, deep-fried soda and a donut bacon double cheeseburger? If the state is funding these events, offer incentives for those options that are not detrimental to health. I know many people say all things in moderation. Fine, let those vendors come in, but offer incentives for healthier options as well. Maybe pay a farmer to setup a stand with fresh fruits and veggies for sale at an affordable cost, rather than making the farmer pay to setup a stand. I’m not the healthiest person in the world but hate attending these events because it’s almost impossible to find anything healthy to eat. Sure, offer those disgustingly unhealthy options for those who scream the loudest, but why not make moves toward a healthier general state of mind. Does anyone REALLY need a deep-fried candy bar? And it seems like anymore, everyday is a reason to have such indulgent foods. On the same note, rather than subsidizing corn and the other random things (including nicotine, as I understand it to be true), start subsidizing fresh fruits and vegetables.

I know some of these things are far-fetched, and the initial change will be brutal. Many (overweight and healthy-weight) people will belly ache about not having access to these belly ache causing foods. But if you want your state to be a healthier place, you have to make changes where we’re the least healthy. I truly believe our habits are formed as children, and are most easily changed at the same time. Give our children not only a basis for what a healthy diet looks like, but give them the skills to keep moving into adulthood. Help them learn to run properly. Show them how to dribble a basketball, serve a volleyball and kick a soccer ball. When they get into high school, teach them the proper techniques for weight lifting, show them the benefits, and track their progress. Hone their running and conditioning skills. And continue to offer a steady stream of information staying healthy, and back it up by serving healthy meals at lunch. Change really does start with the youngest generation. But the older generation has to guide the way. Rather than looking at being healthy as a punishment, change your perspective. See how eating right and staying active makes you feel fantastic. And pass that sentiment along to those who will be our future.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jennewby71
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 15:04:35

    I really hate the BMI calculators. I’m in the “obese range”. Whatever…but when i check my husband, who has gone from a size 36/38 pants and is now a size 31/32 and is wearing men’s small boxer briefs for underwear and then is categorized in “overweight” range it really frustrates me that that is what Dr.s and healthcare professionals are using as a guide. He is NOT overweight. Yes, he’s muscular, muscle weighs more than fat. Therefore the BMI guide is FLAWED! ok…so that is my 2 cents on the stupid BMI charts!

    I’m not sure what the solution is for kids. For sure there needs to be healthy lunches available at schools. And so far, 2 different schools in 2 different states are complying with that from my experience. I probably pack a more unhealthy lunch for my daughter, matter of fact, i KNOW I do. i give her cookies in her lunch, there are no desserts in a school lunch.

    I think a bigger problem is the amount of processed and “bad for you” foods that are out there now. it’s convenient, so it’s easy for people and totally unhealthy. Portion sizes at restaurants are tripled if not quadrupled since the 60s and 70s. look at fast food. i can remember in the 80s a large coke was the size of what McDonalds now calls a “regular” and there are 40+ ounces available now, which NEVER was an option before. So people eat more and eat more crap than they ever did before. More working parents, more daycare, more the need for “convenience” in easy, grab foods, fast food, or restaurants. I think this is all part of it. Oh and the fact that kids can’t go out and play like they could in the past. All the electronics nowadays is ridiculous too. Kids play video games, computers, etc. they don’t ride bikes, roller skate, run, etc. PE is super important and all schools should have it!

    There is so much that is the reason people are overweight and unhealthy. It’s just so hard to come up with solutions. it’s very sad!


  2. stumbletowardhealth
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 11:48:42

    I typed this whole response and it didn’t post. :-( Technology.

    But I’ll summarize it. First, what’s happening with your husband is what I think is best depicted on the picture on this page:

    Second, I agree that convenience foods are convenient. And I get caught in the convenience trap, too. And I’m single, no kids. So I have the least reason of anyone to say I don’t have time. But sometimes the last thing I want to do is add a messy kitchen on top of everything else. Last night I got my hair done and wasn’t out until after 10. There were NO places I could find that served anything that was semi-healthy. So I grabbed a burger and fries, and tried to only eat until I was full. I was exhausted and it was already late. I didn’t want to mess up my kitchen cooking. But that’s mostly an excuse because I als had a headache and was too hungry to go to bed but that’s all I wanted to do!

    And I agree on the super-sizing everything. And I think the portion distortion is what causes us to not be satisfied with a real portion. We can’t be happy with one cookie because most restuarants serve four cookies and three scoops of ice cream for one dessert. We aren’t happy with one 200 calorie serving of pasta because it looks like nothing compared to the four servings we get at a restaurant. We aren’t happy with a “medium” sized soda because we suck it down at warp speed since we’re used to having 40 ounces to drink.

    The more we eat, the more we crave, and the bigger the portions, the more it takes to be satisfied!


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