The mother of a six-year-old girl wasn’t happy last week when her daughter came home from school with a note essentially saying she was overweight.
The note, a form letter from the school nurse, alerted Laura Cacdac that their daughter’s Body Mass Index was high and categorized her as unhealthy, according to WPTV-5. “From the results of this test, it is suggested that your child’s health be examined by a physician, particularly as it relates to the problem suggested by the screening. A problem such as this that goes uncorrected or untreated can severely affect both the health and academic performance of your child,” the letter read.
Laura Cacdac, mom of Charley, was upset with the impersonal nature of the form letter, especially since Charley was able to read it herself. “[Charley’s] first question to me was, ‘do they think I’m fat? Is there something wrong with me?’” Cacdac told WPBF-25 News.
At 4 feet 2 inches and 60 pounds, Cacdac says her daughter is not overweight.
The Palm Beach County Health Department runs a program to monitor childhood obesity, which includes body mass index screenings. “It’s not a stigmatizing letter. We noted the BMI may be high or whatever, and it’s a recommendation to the parents,” Palm Beach County Health Department spokesman Tim O’Connor told WPBF-25.
But Cacdac says the program should include parents earlier and communicate on a case-by-case basis, with more privacy than a letter that anyone can open. “Something like this can stick with her for the rest of her life. It is going to stick in her head…am I fat? Do they think I’m fat?’” she told WPTV-5.
Charley says she was worried when she learned the content of the letter. “If I was fat it would make me kind of sad and kind of feel bad, like I’m kind of different from everybody else,” she told WPBF-25.
Parenting expert and family physician Dr. Deborah Gilboa says having Charley read the letter on the local news may not have been the best decision if Cacdac is concerned about her child’s confidence. “It’s a strange choice for this mother to express her understandable concern that the letter will harm her 6-year-old’s self-esteem, while then giving consent for her daughter to have the unusual experience of reading the letter on the news, which will further cement the letter into [Charley’s] memory,” Gilboa tells Yahoo Parenting. “When she got the letter, she may or may not have remembered it two years later, but now she will for sure.”
While Palm Beach County School District told WPTV-5 that they send all letters home in sealed envelopes, Gilboa says kids can’t be trusted not to open them. “You can email it or ask parents to stop in and pick up copies to make sure they end up in the right hands. The onus is on the school to make this a school-parent issue,” she says. “But health screenings in the school are totally appropriate, and it’s ok to say this warrants a conversation with your child’s doctor.”
Gilboa says letters like this create good opportunities for parents to sit down with their kids and talk about the importance of good health. “We should be talking to kids about health and fitness and balance,” she says. “BMI is just a tool to measure balance.”