Student Well-Being

Arkansas Faces a Weighty Issue

By Laura Greifner — February 13, 2007 1 min read

Stung by criticism from parents and some lawmakers concerned about children’s self-esteem, Arkansas is considering repealing part of its first-in-the-nation, 2003 law that mandates an obesity screening for all public school students.

Supporters of the law say the percentage of schoolchildren classified as overweight or at risk of becoming overweight has decreased since Arkansas adopted its school-based anti-obesity program. But opponents say that the practice of sending home “obesity report cards” has had unintended negative consequences, such as hurting children’s self-images.

The Arkansas House approved a bill Jan. 25 that would repeal the mandatory body-mass-index screening, but would leave intact other parts of the law, such as offering more fruits and vegetables on lunch menus and banning the use of food as rewards.

The Arkansas mandate was pushed along by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee, who made the anti-obesity crusade a focus of his administration. In 2004, a statewide study revealed that nearly 40 percent of Arkansas students were overweight or at risk of becoming overweight.

Since Arkansas enacted the screening requirement, several other states have begun similar efforts, and more are considering them.

But such programs have run into criticism elsewhere as well.

In Barnstable County, Mass., for example, some parents complained that sending letters home with students who had high body-mass indexes humiliated them and caused them undue stress. The Barnstable schools decided to send the letters to parents via mail instead.

In Arkansas, Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat who was inaugurated last month, has objected to some aspects of the current body-mass index screening system. He also noted that while parents can opt out of the screening, the law is less than clear about the process.

“As long as we let parents know that there are options to having their child participate in the Body Mass Index study, parents can make that decision for their own children,” the governor said in a statement released by his office.

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A version of this article appeared in the February 14, 2007 edition of Education Week

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