Arkansas state Representative Kevin Anderson of Rogers has filed two bills to repeal or modify the current school Body Mass Index program instituted by former Governor Mike Huckabee. The program makes it mandatory for all schools in the state to measure and track students BMI and inform parents of the results.
One bill introduced Thursday repeals the 2003 law in its entirety. The other bill allows the school to make testing available for parents who are interested, but stops short of mandatory testing. Critics of the current BMI law, including Anderson, believe that labeling a child as obese hurts his or her self esteem. “We’re potentially labeling kids, we’re embarrassing them. I think the BMI test is far from perfect. It’s not perfect.”
Anderson also believes that by taking time out of the day to measure BMI, schools are losing sight of other tasks. “I think schools probably have a lot of other things to concentrate on and a lot higher priorities in terms of student performance and academics than the BMI testing,” Anderson said.
School administrators have mixed feelings about the current law. Many feel it helps children by focusing their attention on their health, but the costs of mailing the reports can be high. Last year, the Little Rock School District mailed reports to 26,000 parents.
Former Governor Mike Huckabee has spoken out against the new bills, claiming that the repeal of the BMI law would be a “huge step backwards” in the fight against childhood obesity. Huckabee lost more than 100 pounds when he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes and made the fight against obesity a cornerstone of his administration. It also looks to be a central issue in a potential run for the Republican nomination for the White House in 2008.
The BMI law has been credited with stopping the rise of childhood obesity in the state. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation named Arkansas as the only state in the nation to have stopped the increase in childhood obesity.
A parent in the Bryant School District promises to fight to keep the 2003 BMI law on the books. Rhonda Sanders, the mother of of an 8th grade student and a member of the Child Health Advisory Committee says that the report doesn’t harm the self-esteem of the child because the measuring and reports are both private. “We sat down with her and said here it is. She didn’t find out about it alone, she didn’t get a report that she brought home and her friends saw. It was something that came to us and we dealt with it as a family.”
Governor Mike Beebe has said he supports changes to the state’s BMI law and believes parents should take a more active role in their child’s health.