Thursday, January 18, 2007

The 'fat letter' - got ink in a Trib article

The 'fat letter' - Tribune-Review "'It's a pretty flaky measurement,' said Mark Rauterkus, whose two sons, ages 9 and 11, go to Phillips Elementary on the South Side. 'I wouldn't hang my hat on it.'

Rauterkus said he has coached youth swimming for several years, and thinks a more accurate way to measure kids' fitness is looking at body fat percentage, or by physically measuring how many pull-ups a kid can do.
The doctor quoted in the article, Dr. David, is our family doctor. He says good things too.

Nice article.

Years ago I published a book, Pull Your Own Weight. The author's philosophy was to have the kids to pull-ups, or chin-ups. And, it connected with a new weight equipment device, the Total Gym. Chuck Norris has sold the Total Gym on TV info-comercials for years since then.

The Pull Your Own Weight concepts were put into practice with a group of at-risk kids at a public school in Rock Island, Illinois. They made great improvements. All the classrooms to the school had pull-up bars installed in the doorways. Kids had some special attention each week with their pull ups. Generally, the kids were assisted by an adult to complete the pull ups.

Some of the kids at the school that year got very strong. I saw the results, and this was years ago. I think, if memory serves me right, there were more than a dozen kids who could all do more than 12 pull ups. The school record climbed to 23 or some such number, way higher than anything I could ever dream of doing.

Check out the article. It is posted in full in the comments of this blog post.

As a note: It is a typical clash of cultures to have my former opponent and heavyweight senator, Wayne Fontana, quoted in the news concerning the Penguins saga and a give-a-way of more public money to the team through the cover of the venue -- while at the same time have a newspaper quote from me in an article about kids -- and FAT measurements. (See the post below.)


Anonymous said...

Full article:

By Kim Lyons
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Barb Phelps called it "the fat letter," and when it came in the mail, she was not pleased.

"This whole thing has got me really ticked off," Phelps said. "They're telling kids who aren't fat that they're fat."

Phelps, who is president of the Parent Teacher Association at her daughters' school, Westwood Elementary, was talking about the letter that came last spring from the school nurse. Her girls are 7 and 9 years old, and according to the Pittsburgh Public Schools, both are overweight.

"They're going to feed these kids garbage at school and then tell them they're fat?" Phelps said. "My older daughter does tap, jazz, ballet, and my younger daughter is just plain thin. They're not fat. I try really hard to watch what they eat, because the school lunches are awful."

The state Department of Public Health requires school nurses to measure students' body mass index, or BMI, along with weight and height as part of its growth screening program.

A person's BMI is calculated from his or her weight and height and provides an indicator of body fatness, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In 2005, Pennsylvania became the second state to require school nurses to measure students' body mass index and notify parents of the results.

"It's a pretty flaky measurement," said Mark Rauterkus, whose two sons, ages 9 and 11, go to Phillips Elementary on the South Side. "I wouldn't hang my hat on it."

Rauterkus said he has coached youth swimming for several years, and thinks a more accurate way to measure kids' fitness is looking at body fat percentage, or by physically measuring how many pull-ups a kid can do.

Arkansas became the first state to require student BMI reporting in 2002. That state used money from a national tobacco settlement to pay for enacting the new mandate. In addition to Arkansas and Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Carolina and Tennessee now require BMI notification in public schools.

In our state, the growth screening program was started last school year, beginning with students in kindergarten through grade 5. This year includes students up to grade 8, and high school students across the state will be phased in during the 2007-08 school year.

The height and weight measurements have been reported by schools to parents for 50 years, according to Richard McGarvey at the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health. The health screenings are conducted along with vision and hearing screening.

According to Ebony Pugh, spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh Public Schools, there have been no calls to the parent hot line concerning the BMI number in the health form. McGarvey said the form isn't new, just the inclusion of the BMI figure.

"It gives a much clearer sense than height and weight alone, of whether a child is growing healthfully," McGarvey said.

He said the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control recommend BMI as a way to alert parents to the fact that extra weight puts their child at risk for serious health problems.

Pennsylvania Advocates for Nutrition and Activity worked with the department of health to develop a growth screening communication kit for schools and parents, spokesman Joel Cliff said.

The kit, available on PANA's Web site, includes templates for letters to send home to parents, a PowerPoint presentation and tips on putting the growth screening program into effect. The kit is designed to "communicate the why, what and how of growth screening to parents, colleagues and administrators," Cliff said.

It sends the message "that BMI is only one part of a larger, overall program to improve nutrition and increase physical activity."

Dr. David Wolfson of Children's Community Pediatrics at Children's Hospital said any awareness raised about the growing problem of childhood obesity is good. The younger the child, the better the chances of forming healthy eating habits early. Trying to break bad eating habits in an older child is much harder, Wolfson said.

"If we can dent their habits and preferences early, we can keep them 'in the green,'" Wolfson said. He referred to the Department of Health and Human Services chart of childhood BMI ranges, with the healthiest BMI numbers represented in green.

Weight management in children is a tricky subject, Wolfson said, for the child and the parents. "A lot of times, parents are taken aback by this kind of information," he said. "It needs to be presented in a way parents can handle." That should include more than just a number on a fitness form, he said.

In other local school districts, response to the BMI notification was mixed. Mt. Lebanon left it up to individual schools to decide what time of year to notify parents, spokeswoman Cissy Bowman said.

But Penn Hills school board director Margie Krogh wasn't aware of the new BMI mandate.

"Why is it government policy to tell our kids what to eat?" Krogh said. "When I was in school, I thought it was mortifying to be measured and weighed. Why did anyone at school need to know how much I weighed?"

Phelps, president of Westwood Elementary's PTA, said she isn't sure whether she's going to share her kids' BMI numbers with them when this year's letter arrives.

"I didn't show them the letter last year," she said. "I called our pediatrician, and the nurses said, 'Don't worry about it.' Both of them got fat letters for their kids, too."

Kim Lyons can be reached at or (412) 320-7922.

TeeBubba said...

I remember about 48 years ago as a sixth grader being told by the school nurse in one of our local school districts that I "was a quarter of a pound overweight"..needless to say my parents were not pleased as I was a normal looking kid..