Some relief for scale-aphobic children

>It’s ironic that now, when “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” plays on every strip-mall loudspeaker in America, I recall the least wonderful time of the year for me in elementary school – thanks to a recent Dallas Morning News article.

Mrs. Galloway was a wonderful elementary P.E. teacher. Very encouraging. Very fun. I looked forward to every one of her classes but one – the annual weigh-in. On this end-of-school-year judgment day, our beloved instructor would line us up like little ducklings (or pachyderm in my case) and put us on the scales for the whole class to see. It mortified me. Every year, I tried to contract convenient illnesses, but, alas, there was never any flu to be found.
You see, I grew quick… and I kind of liked food (still do). My weight was at least in the top 3 every year, sometimes 40 to 50 pounds heavier than my friends’. No matter how good of an athlete I was, whether I ran the mile a minute faster than everyone else or could slap a basketball backboard, I inevitably became “fat boy” on weigh-in days. Granted, I had years of roundness in mid-elementary that warranted the title, but I felt like I grew out of that by fifth and sixth grade. The weight scales unfortunately didn’t indicate any difference.
In the whole “no pain, no gain” scheme of things, I probably became a better person for enduring the yearly ordeal. But I also obtained insecurities about my image and a sense of helplessness about my weight that linger to this day.

In the aforementioned DMN article, our own Dr. LeAnn Kridelbaugh – pediatrician and physician nutrition specialist at Children’s – says that childhood fitness cannot be accurately measured by a weight scale alone. She adds that simple Body Mass Index numbers don’t really produce accurate measures for kids, either. “With kids these numbers are moving targets,” she says. “A normal BMI or waist circumference for a 10-year-old would be horrific for a 5-year-old. Although there are some norms for waist circumference, we don’t focus on them. Instead pediatricians plot a child’s height, weight and BMI on a curve.”
In case you missed it, the key word in that quote is “curve,” and she’s not talking about shapeliness. The curve Dr. Kridelbaugh mentions has a lot more in common with your college calculus grade than your chest-to-waist ratio. The idea is that fitness measurement numbers (BMI calculation, waist circumference, weight, body fat percentage, etc…) should be interpreted relative to each child. One hundred and fifty pounds may be healthy for one child and unhealthy for another. Dr. Kridelbaugh says the truest statistical way to track your child’s health is to monitor his BMI percentile range according to his age and gender.
“If you see that one year a child is in the 50th percentile and the next year he is in the 75th percentile that’s cause for concern even if the BMI is still in the normal range,” Kridelbaugh says. “A child should be at one percentile his whole life. If he’s jumped that much, it’s time to start thinking about what the child is eating and drinking and how active he is.”

If instructors, coaches and parents heed this advice, a lot of kids might avoid unjustified image complexes. More importantly, they will be able to discern which kids truly do need to make adjustments.

As far as I go, well, I’m just glad that we don’t have annual weigh-in days at work. Trying to get sick is harder than you’d think.

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