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Inside Practically Paradise

Can BMI information be dangerous?

Years ago when I took my library comprehensive oral examination, I was asked if I thought information could be dangerous. I think back to that question many times. Take a situation that is slowly occurring across the country with schools sharing body mass index information about students with the parent(s). We recognize we have a problem with childhood obesity in this country. Shouldn’t this information be helpful?

Recently author Cheryl Rainfeld posted on one of the listserv’s I monitor the highlighted information below. With her permission, I am sharing her email with you plus adding the question I asked her and answer.

Hi there,

I wanted to let you know that you (and your readers) can enter to win 1 of 2 signed copies of Scars by me, 1 of 2 signed copies of Purge by Sarah Darer Littman, and a signed copy of Hope In Patience by Beth Fehlbaum by signing a petition to help stop the dangerous practice of putting BMI and weight grades on report cards (and letting either Sarah or me know you’ve signed).

So many of us struggle with negative body images and issues with food. Girls and teens are especially susceptible; eating disorders and body image issues (including self-harm) are on the rise. Now there’s something that will make this worse–many states are now sending weight grades and BMI scores home on students’ report cards. Can you imagine the affect that will have? ( ) (If you can already imagine and want to help, please sign the petition here: )

I can. As a sexual abuse survivor, I hated my body. HATED it. I wore baggy clothes, trying to hide from anyone seeing me; I used food in binge episodes to try to suppress my pain; and I cut myself up–a lot. There were many other reasons I cut–mostly to escape the pain of the abuse, to get through another minute, to punish myself, sometimes to keep from killing myself–but hatred for my body was in the mix.

And at home, I had my abusers telling me I was a fat cow when they’d rape me. I had forced impregnations — god, how I dissociated from my body, wanted to be anywhere but in my own flesh.

If I had had BMI and weight grades on my report cards, my abusers would have used it as another form of emotional abuse. I would have used it to beat myself up more. I know I would have been cutting more, and I would probably also have gotten a lot more messed up with food than I already was. And I am sure that the bullying I experienced, especially by other girls, would have increased.

I could barely get through some of those days as a teen. I wince to think how much worse they would have been with my BMI on my report cards.

We know girls are pressured to be thin. We know eating disorders and negative body issues are on the rise.

We know that:
�    Anorexia has the highest mortality rate among all psychological disorders.
�    10% of all eating disorders cases are children under the age of 10.
�    The most common behavior that will lead to an eating disorder is dieting.
�    4 out of 10 Americans have either suffered or have known someone who has suffered from an eating disorder.
�    One-half of 4th grade girls are on a diet.
�    Among high school students, 44% of the females and 15% of the males are attempting to lose weight.
�    Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents.

That is scary enough. Putting  “weight grades” and BMI on report cards is only going to make it worse. When I read a newspaper article on this, I knew I had to do something. Together, author Sarah Darer Littman ( and I wrote and created a petition to help stop the spread of this dangerous practice. I really believe that we can make a difference if enough voices are heard.

Please, please–sign the petition , let your friends know about the petition, and help us make a change for the better.

I care about this so much that I’ll do another giveaway. Let me know that you’ve signed the petition in the comments of my post ( , and you are entered to win one of two signed copies of Scars. These are first edition, hardcover copies. Sound good? Please go sign the petition and help spread the word!

Take good care,

Author of:
*Hunted* (WestSide Books, Oct 2011) *Cassie, a telepath, must choose between saving herself or saving the entire human race.

*Scars *(WestSide Books, 2010) *Kendra must face her past and stop hurting herself–before it’s too
late….* Governor General Literary Award Finalist; #1 in ALA’s 2011 Top 10 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, and 2011 Rainbow List Bibliography

*Skinwalkers: Walking Both Sides* (HIP Books, May 2011) *Dragon Speaker: The Last Dragon* (HIP Books, 2009) *Engaging fantasies for reluctant readers..*

*Cheryl’s Book Blog:*

I (Diane) asked: We have a problem in our country with childhood obesity. Can you provide some alternatives to these measures or a way to address this differently so the children are helped, not harmed?

Cheryl replied: I think there are many ways to help children be healthy. One is regular gym classes, which many schools have been cutting. Extra curricular activities that involve sports, movement, dance. Healthy food in cafeterias and snack dispensers, instead of some of the fattening or sugar-laden junk that is there. Compassionate education for everyone (not just kids who may be overweight) about healthy eating, exercise, healthy living–*mindful* eating and awareness of how we can use food. I think some parents, especially, may need that education. If they’re feeding their kids junk…well, it’s going to show.

So now readers, I ask you. Are your state and your school districts sending weight scores and BMI information home on report cards? Do you believe this information will be helpful or harmful? I really want to know your opinion. Since I have struggled with my weight and body image for years, I can appreciate both viewpoints. Tell me your point of view. You can either post it here in the comments section or email me and I’ll upload the information you are willing to share. Thanks.


  1. Diane, thank you so very much for posting this, and helping to share this information with others. I so very much appreciate it! You’re wonderful!

  2. Ugh – I had a related problem with my daughter’s school that swung the other direction. They told all the girls what their BMI supposedly was, but did not even let the parents know they were sharing this information with them. Fortunately, my daughter is one of those rare teens who talks to her parents, so when she suddenly stopped eating I was able to find out why: My 5’5″, 128-pound daughter, who does aerobics five days a week and works on a ranch on the weekends, was told she was BORDERLINE OBESE.

    After I finished flipping out, I called our family doctor and arranged for a check-up. I knew I needed some authority to counteract the damage done, and quickly. The doctor showed her how the measuring is SUPPOSED to be done, worked through the charts with her, and was able to prove very quickly that (a) the number the school gave her was way off to begin with, and (b) even that original number was well within normal range, and the accurate number actually shows she has a pretty low BMI.

    Needless to say, my next flurry of e-mails were to the school, including the super and the head of student health. Besides the inaccuracies and the way it was communicated to the kids (who on earth thinks it’s a good idea to use the word “obese” in a conversation with a teenage girl?), I asked why they were doing it to begin with. They are teachers, not physicians, and this is not their job, right or responsibility. The term “in loco parentis” has been taken way too seriously by school administrations as the years go by, and they assume /usurp more and more of the parents’ role. Are there parents not taking care of their own responsibilities? Certainly. That doesn’t give the schools the right to assume them carte blanche. The purpose of the schools is to educate, and they are doing a pretty poor job of that – why add more hats?

    Can you tell I am still “het up” about it? :) I can’t help worrying about the other 97% of teenage girls who DON’T tell their parents anything. How many eating disorders did that one class cause?

  3. Lisa Von Drasek Diane Chen says:

    I met with my physical education coaches to ask them about this for our district. Coach A said he would never dare tell a student they were unhealthy and that he wasn’t a doctor. We discussed how students could suffer the consequences of unhealthy self-esteem, etc. He told me that students have the option to not be weighed and that he truly believed parents should know if their child had an unhealthy weight problem. Do you think that parents are that clueless that they need a P.E. teacher to give them this information?