State conducts Body Mass Index study of third-graders

Height, weight results not shared with parents

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana State Department of Health is conducting a first-of-its-kind statewide study on the Body Mass Index, or BMI, of third-grade students.

However, the state did not provide height and weight results to the parents of children who participated, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney has learned.

"I was just curious why they didn't, but I figured (the data) went wherever it needed to go," said Pamela Pennington, whose daughter Alyson participated in the study along with classmates at Van Buren Elementary in Brown County.

Fourteen hundred students at 59 elementary schools participated in the study, but 40 schools declined to take part, in part because parents did not want their children’s height and weight measured.

"It’s a touchy subject," said Amy Reel, spokeswoman for the Indiana State Department of Health. "Childhood and adult obesity are serious issues that we face in Indiana and on a national level, you have to be able to talk about it."

If a student wanted to know their results, a child would receive the information on a Post-it note and was encouraged not to share the results with others.

"We really tried our best to frame the study in a way that would reduce the negative impact on the students who agreed to participate," Reel said.

Controversy in Florida over so-called “fat” letters sent home to parents after a BMI survey.

Indiana wanted to avoid controversy while gathering data on childhood obesity rates.

The BMI study was conducted in conjunction with an oral health screening, and although the state provided letters with oral health screening results , the letter contained no information on height and weight.

"I would like to have it," said Jordan Webb, physical education teacher at Van Buren Elementary. "If we have that information then we can set goals and work to achieve those goals, and possibly improve what their BMIs are and maybe lower that number."

The state did not share the results with teachers or staff at participating schools, and the final report expected next month will not identify schools or students.

"We recognize that this is sensitive issue," Reel said. "Studies like this have been conducted around the country and they haven’t always gone perfectly."

The state has never conducted such a study of third-graders' body mass index, but hopes to conduct another one in five years.

"We've never had our BMI rates for this third-grade population in the past, so we hope by getting this information we'll be able to create better preventative services, shape programs to really help decrease childhood obesity in the state," Reel said.

Hoosiers pay an estimated $3.5 billion a year in obesity-related medical costs.

"Childhood obesity is really everyone’s problem in the state," said Reel. "Everyone has to take part in the solution."

Alyson's mom, Pamela, and Webb are all for anything that makes Hoosier kids healthier.

"I think students need as much physical activity as they can get in a day," Webb said.

"I'm not the skinniest mom in the world, but I want to try and teach my children how to be healthy. What they need to do to stay fit, and activity is key," Pennington said.

The Oral Health Program at ISDH was allocated $100,000 from the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant to conduct the study.

Kenney gathered information from school districts across the state and found the state of Indiana currently has no minute requirement for schools when it comes to physical education, so the amount of exercise kids get at school varies widely.

"We do recommend 30 minutes of physical education time during class every day," Reel said.

More: Indiana Healthy Weight Initiative 

Click here to read the letter sent to parents.
Click here to read the screening form used for the study.
Click here to read the permission form used for the study.

Follow Kara Kenney on Twitter: @karakenney6 | Facebook: KaraKenneyNews

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