An 11 year old girl in Florida was given a health assessment at school by the Collier County Health Department. The assessment included a BMI (Body Mass Index) test and the results came back that she was overweight. She was sent home with a letter that included the dangers of being overweight and stated she was at risk for being fat all of her life if no one intervened. Her mother was rightfully concerned about how harmful this practice could be to girls’ self esteem.
I, on the other hand, have some issues with how the story is being reported. Clips from the aired news story include Lily Grassow playing volleyball and being active in her average-sized body. Other shots follow the mother showing off the healthy foods in the fridge, capturing her commitment to a healthy lifestyle for her children. They had to prove that Lily wasn’t actually fat to drive home the message (that has already been made clear) that these tests could be harmful to kids.
All you have to do is ask a black girl (or any person of color really) about the discrepancies of BMI testing. It is not the least bit shocking that a girl an 11 year old got inaccurate results. But that’s what has made this story so newsworthy. It’s ok to use BMI testing to shame fat kids on a daily basis, but when innocent girls are being called fat when they’re not? That’s just unacceptable.
Performing BMI tests at school can be humiliating and extremely triggering for children who conscious about their body. Kids get enough harmful messaging about their bodies. As Jos mentioned in a previous post, “the way we’ve come to link fat and health is an overly simplistic take on a complex reality. What’s not complicated is that bullying is bad for your health. It’s psychologically harmful, which is a health issue, and which can lead to plenty of other negative health outcomes.” And while I’m not implying that these assessments are means of bullying kids, they create an environment of criticism and judgement about kids’ bodies.
Helping kids lead healthier lives should involve arming them with information and resources to be healthier.