Surprise? Fat Letters Don’t Help Girls with Excess Weight

In a finding that should surprise absolutely no one, a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences (PNAS) showed that “fat letters” sent home from school had little discernable effect. In New York City, they euphemistically call these letters – which notify parents if their child has excess weight or obesity – “fitnessgrams.” The kids aren’t fooled by the euphemism. They call them “fat letters.”

Ellen Schwartz, senior author of the study, explained to CNN:

A year later, if you’re looking at the girls, the ones that got the overweight notice are no trimmer, no less likely to be overweight, or no less likely to be obese. Similar findings were found for boys.  I think that the hope was that by letting parents know, “Hey, your kid is overweight, your kid is obese,” they would say, “Wow, I didn’t know that” and take action, or the kid would, and we didn’t see that.

Maybe this is news to people who don’t have kids with excess weight in school. But it is certainly not news to parents who do. Kids who are heavier than others hear about it all the time. They hear it from their parents, their teachers, their coaches, and their peers.

What they don’t hear is that there’s a real solution to the problem that’s being flagged. They might get glittering generalities about eating less, eating healthy, and moving more. But by and large, they don’t get the kind of care that will make much lasting difference in their weight status.

That’s because not a lot of highly effective, evidence based options for kids are available. A recent review by William Dietz in in Lancet expressed this fact starkly:

Few options, few published reports of treatment, and no large randomised trials are available for paediatric patients.

Even if you think that kids don’t know it when they have excess weight, it makes zero sense to keep sending these “fat letters” home from school when schools have no help to offer the kids and their families. At the very least a conversation about obesity should come from a child’s healthcare provider. And that provider should be equipped to help – through staff or through referrals.

Coming from school, these letters could hardly be a more complete waste of resources.

Click here for the study and here for more from CNN.

Letterbox, photograph © Bob / flickr

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April 8, 2016

One Response to “Surprise? Fat Letters Don’t Help Girls with Excess Weight”

  1. April 12, 2016 at 11:23 am, Allen Browne said: