When a child brings home a disciplinary note from school, it usually does not have good news. But what one Florida mother read from her 6-year-old daughter's school nurse went far beyond what she could've expected. It penalized her for being overweight.
The letter suggested her "child's health be examined by a physician, particularly as it relates to the problem suggested by the screening." It threatened that leaving the "problem" "uncorrected or untreated" could "severely affect both the health and academic performance of your child."
Laura Cacdac immediately took action against the school for what she considered a hurtful message that her daughter, Charley, would have to live with for years, and possibly internalize in the form of an eating disorder.
"Her first question to me was, 'Do they think I'm fat? Is there something wrong with me?'" Cacdac told WPTV. "It is basically in my opinion telling me I am harming my child and doing wrong by her and then telling me how to properly feed my child."
The foundation of an eating disorder: Cacdac's hunch about how this will shape her daughter's life is spot-on, according to research. A study cited by the National Eating Disorders Association says that by age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their body image. Even further, as many as 40% to 60% of girls ages 6 to 12 are concerned about their weight or becoming too fat, a concern that endures through life.
And all it took was one health screening and an adverse letter home from school for Charley to begin feeling insecure about her body.
The health test Charley experienced at school doesn't even paint a full picture of the child's health. It was reportedly based on the Body Mass Index (BMI), which uses an individual's height, weight and age to determine if a person carries excess weight. Indeed, any person, let alone a growing child, could be considered overweight by the index and still be in great health. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions, it's an inexpensive and non-invasive surrogate measure, with factors such as age, sex, ethnicity and muscle mass influencing the relationship between BMI and body fat.
Even though the BMI isn't the most reliable measure of any health risk factors associated with body weight, Florida's elementary schools are required by state law to conduct the screening. But Cacdac decided not to subject her daughter to such scrutiny any longer, telling WPTV that she has opted Charley out of future evaluations.
Assessments of this nature often miss the point of what it means be healthy. A hard and fast focus on fat negates conversations about having a positive relationship with food and with one's own body. It could also reinforce some of the worst stereotypes of people who are fat, many of which are to blame for unrealistic beauty standards and size discrimination that fat people endure.
Instead, it's more worthwhile to create an environment where people, including children, of all sizes are affirmed and accepted, rather than scorned by a pseudoscientific approach to being healthy.