Thanks to a particularly contentious race between Emily Cain (D) and Bruce Poliquin (R) for Maine’s 2nd District seat in the House of Representatives we are aware of Emily Cain’s sponsorship of a bill to weigh Maine’s public school children.
Cain sponsored the bill, which she says had support from Maine pediatricians and both parties, to help fight childhood obesity. As somebody who’s raised four healthy-weight daughters and has more than 25 years of experience working in the commercial weight control industry I recognize a need to address the problem.
Through my personal experience with my weight struggle and my professional experience helping both adults and children lose weight, I applaud the efforts, but give the action a D+. I believe weighing children in school has the potential to cause more damage than to help reverse the incidence of childhood obesity.
Before I continue, I want to make it clear that this is neither an endorsement nor an indictment of either candidate. I do not seek to have any influence on readers’ votes. I have only brought up the political issue because it ignited a conversation about weighing children in public schools.
I write this blog to help parents understand what can happen when too much attention is placed on body weight. Numbers are secondary to healthy thinking and healthy habits. Trying to improve kids’ habits to influence the number on the scale is a rather backward approach. It’s fails more often than succeeds. It makes more sense to encourage kids to make healthy habits a regular and fun part of their lives and let the number on the scale take care of itself.
Weight Watchers is the world’s leader in commercial weight loss services. As such, the company enjoys the endorsement from all major health organizations in North America as a safe, healthy, scientifically based weight loss program and yet, Weight Watchers will not allow a child younger than 13 to join. This isn’t because children will disrupt meetings. It’s because an adult approach to weight management isn’t recommended for children.
Children 13-17 may join Weight Watchers under the following conditions:
- BMI greater than or equal to 95th percentile
- Parent or guardian provides a note from child’s doctor with permission to join Weight Watchers and specifically contains current BMI percentile and weight loss goal based on first three months
- Must check in with doctor every three months to assess progress, make sure current rate of weight loss is healthy, and to set a weight goal for the next three months
- Parent or guardian must sign the Health Release on the registration form and the time of joining
My opinion is Weight Watchers meetings are no place for any adolescent under the age of 17. The science behind the food and exercise plans is healthy and effective for them. The effect of attending meetings and weekly weigh-ins may be psychologically harmful to young members.
Children should learn to feel good about taking care of their bodies by feeding it properly and staying active. A child shouldn’t be judged good or bad because the number on the scale went down, up, or stayed the same. Kids can internalize situations that are insignificant and allow it to negatively affect their feelings of self-worth. In fact, many adults who have a history of dieting as kids find it hard to overcome their negative self-images and it reflects in everything they do, not just their weight.
Parents should know that weight, particularly for female children, occupies their thoughts frequently. Girls as young as 5 and 6 worry about being too fat. Boys, at that age, care less about their own weight, but if they’re overweight are often targets of bullies because they’re a “fat kid,”
A public school program of weighing kids serves to put too much emphasis on weight. Parents who refuse to have their children weighed are taking a step to protect their children, however it’s common knowledge that weighing takes place in the school. Whether or not the overweight student steps on a scale or not doesn’t matter.
I feel a child’s weight is private information that only the child’s physician and parents or guardian need to have. There is a more important role schools can play in helping children maintain healthy weights than weighing them.
I’m aware some experts disagree with me. My position is based on my experience and research. Others have experience and will cite research to the contrary. I’m open to comments and different points of view. There is no one size fits all answer when it comes to helping kids grow up to be healthy adults.