“Fat letters” aren’t influencing teens

Turns out those so-called “fat letters” informing parents that they have an overweight child aren’t leading to weight loss among adolescents.

In the last few years, more and more schools have begun monitoring their students’ weight and sending home letters – sometimes called “BMI (body mass index) letters” or “fat letters.”

But a new study of adolescents in Arkansas – the first state to mandate the letters for children in public schools – found that the letters had little to no effect.

Arkansas implemented its letter policy in 2003. The policy requires annual weigh-ins and letters home, informing parents if their child’s BMI was in the underweight, healthy, overweight or obese range.

The study, which appeared in the Journal of Adolescent Health, looked at whether adolescents who received the letters when they were younger experienced changes in their health outcomes if they continued to receive screening.

The study found that exposing 11th and 12th graders to BMI screening and the annual letters (if they had been exposed when younger) was not associated with their health outcomes.

Kevin Gee, an author of the study, didn’t seem surprised by the results.

“The typical 16-year-old’s reaction to getting a letter at home and having your parents tell you to eat right and exercise, would be, ‘Don’t nag me,’” Gee, an assistant professor of education policy at the University of California, Davis, told the New York Times.

Marissa Harshman

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at marissa.harshman@columbian.com or 360-735-4546.

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