Practically all statistics agree with our eyes: obesity is a problem, a problem that includes too many children. Various sources will corroborate that the average Body Mass Index (BMI) has risen and is continuing to rise. This index compares a person’s height to their weight to determine if they are a healthy weight for their height. The higher numbers we are seeing for both children and adults tell us that as a society we are growing heavier for our given heights. With that in mind, many in the public health world and government are looking for ways to intervene and reverse that trend. This search is not wrong- unless the interventions they impose either fail or create other problems.
While we as individuals can try different diets, different exercise programs, and every other plan to curb weight gain or lose a few pounds, the larger response of public health is also working to reverse this societal trend. This is not a bad idea, but just like the diets and exercise programs, some seemingly grand ideas work, and some don’t, whether for individuals or as public health strategies. To decide what strategies are best at any level, we must consider what we are really aiming at and whether our strategies are making real changes for the better or the worse.
Excess weight isn’t just aesthetic; it has significant health implications. Statistical surveys and monitoring reveal that higher BMI’s correlate with negative health outcomes like diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and more; further, many causative links have been found. Obesity is not just about aesthetics, but affects one’s health quality of life, costs for health care, work productivity, and life span. Ultimately, these outcomes deserve more attention than a simple number on a scale or a BMI calculation. Losing 10 pounds but worsening one’s health is not a good trade off.
With that in mind, we can look at the study in focus for today’s blog. The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management published findings by a University of Massachusetts Amherst resource economist showing that laws in 24 states mandating BMI measurements for school children had mixed results. More children were found to be aware of their obesity, but it did not show consistent evidence that the children made healthy lifestyle changes towards reducing obesity or its secondary consequences. On the other hand, normal weight children reported a greater concern for their weight even though they were considered normal weight.
Overall, evidence for the success of these programs was lacking. Whether intervening on an individual level or at a public health level, we want the intervention to produce meaningful benefits and minimize unintended adverse effects for a cost-effective price. While the costs of these government-mandated and school-enacted policies were not mentioned, the results are clearly not worth even a low cost. These programs, in my assessment, are just another misdirected attempt by the government to apply flimsy band-aids in the wrong place while trying to play parent for its citizens. Let’s stop wasting our time and energy on ill-fated programs and instead focus on teaching two things. First, encourage children to value their health so they want to live healthier lives. Second, teach them what healthy living looks like through the examples of parents and important people in their lives. Functional medicine is working hard at both goals, but especially the second.
Brandyn F. Churchill. State‐mandated school‐based BMI assessments and self‐reported adolescent health behaviors. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 2023; DOI: 10.1002/pam.22523
Thanks to Science Daily:
University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Benefits, risks in state-mandated school-based BMI assessments.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 September 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/09/230912165708.htm>.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.