Two doctors from the nonprofit Altarum Institute have taken a page from the Department of Homeland Security playbook, and began advocating a “Body Mass Index surveillance system” this week. What kind of surveillance? An electronic registry of children’s personal health information, gathered in order to monitor their weight. Here’s our question: Will the FBI start tapping phone conversations any time the words “cookies” and “ice cream” are spoken?
Let’s hope not. Because although Body Mass Index (BMI) is a popular measurement for weight-conscious consumers, it’s simplistic to the point of being practically useless. BMI is a simple calculation of height and weight used by government bureaucrats to classify people as "normal," "overweight," or "obese." And considering that the measurement is so flawed that it considers Brad Pitt overweight, it’s no surprise that many scientists have suggested abandoning the use of BMI altogether. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention casts doubt on the effectiveness of BMI as a health-promotion tool.
This new surveillance system is reminiscent of the BMI “report card” that Arkansas mandated in 2003 in order to grade students’ weight. How did that work out? “The BMI testing has not put a dent in the state’s number of overweight kids,” The Baltimore Sun reported three years later. In fact, 13 percent of parents reported that the program was a source of humiliation for their kids at school.
Massachusetts, where the state Public Health Council just approved a similar weight screening program, should proceed cautiously. Here’s what one parent wrote in response to her daughter’s BMI “report card”:
Childhood obesity is an important matter. That being said, to send letters home to parents of children that are not even a little overweight, stating that they need to see their physician is unnecessary and some parents could find very alarming….
Regardless of the number, one look at my beautiful, healthy, slender child makes this student report card irrelevant and proves to me the guidelines for this kind of testing needs to be revisited by our government.
Only Big Brother buzzkills and Nanny State aficionados would think it’s a good idea to stigmatize kids with a system so broken that it labels professional athletes “obese.” BMI report cards are an effective form of childhood obesity surveillance. There’s no reason to think a new kind of government-run fat “surveillance” would be any different.