Children Receiving ‘Fat Letters’ from Schools

childhood nutrition

Letters mailed home from your child’s school are never pleasurable to read. They are either mind-numbing (because it’s a car line policy update, which won’t be implemented until the following school year and only applies to the afternoon pickup), or stressful (because those notices continually surprise you with lovely additions, like classroom photo fees, field trip fees, or school “supplies” fees).

And if you’re a parent in North Andover, Mass., letters might even be outrageous (because the school just called your kid fat).

Tracy Watson, a parent in North Andover, Mass., is fighting the “fat letters” that schools have mailed home, informing parents that “their child qualifies as obese.” Her fourth-grader received one, which initially made her laugh; but then she decided to fight back.

Watson’s son, who is 4 feet 7 inches and weighs 97 pounds, “plays sports and participates in martial arts. He’s a member of the North Andover Booster Club wrestling team and the Doughboy Wrestling Club, and he’s also a football player.”

If this young boy is truly that active, how can he be considered obese? Not overweight – but OBESE!

Since 2009, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has had a “BMI initiative” that obligates public schools to screen its students, and then send parents the results, “along with instructions for parents on dealing with the child’s weight issues.” However, people are pointing out that the health department’s method is flawed: muscle mass isn’t taken in to account.

Parents also receive letters if their child is underweight, and according to one article, at a healthy weight.

A public health representative recently endorsed the screenings, writing, “Children with a high BMI are more likely to become overweight or obese adults and be at higher risk for diabetes, heart disease and some cancers … the latest BMI report showed that 32.3% of students in Massachusetts were either overweight or obese.”

The representative goes on to point out that any parent can write a letter to the school to waive the screenings, which are only “intended to raise parents’ awareness about this issue.”

Did you know 32.3% of students in Massachusetts are overweight or obese? I didn’t. Nor do I know how many students are overweight / obese in my own home state. But that seems like an awful lot, doesn’t it?


I’m sure these parents have to deal with their child’s hurt feelings, and any associated embarrassments or other stresses, once they receive a “Fat Letter.” And hopefully, if their child is as active as Watson’s, they too can laugh it off and fight back for accuracy and fairness for muscle mass. (If you’re going to tell a child he or she is fat, you’d better be dang sure you can prove it to the parents.) But, maybe those parents whose children are not so active, and perhaps are a little overweight, might be thankful for this wakeup call? What do you think?

How would you feel if your child’s school classified him or her as obese?

What do you think?

Children Receiving ‘Fat Letters’ from Schools

Kimberly Shannon is a wife, a mother, an editor, a writer ... She is always working to find the perfect balance¹! After Kimberly received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism, she worked on two master’s degree programs (Creative Writing, and Marriage and Family Therapy). At various times in her life she has signed up to study Naturopathy, only to back out at the last minute, and humored the idea of returning full-time to the world of dance. Kimberly has also started 10 different children ... More

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  1. dvmsara says:

    I agree that it’s not the school’s job to "play doctor," but just wanted to point that most kids probably don’t see a doctor that often. I, for one, was a very healthy kid and I went to the doctor only when I needed vaccines or a checkup for school, which was at age 5 and age 12..

  2. Mary says:

    There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to raise awareness. I went to elementary school with several students who were overweight. Many of them are now physically fit. Also, there are many females that I went to school with who were skinny as a rail. They got pregnant and felt they could eat anything that they wanted. Now, they are the ones floating around like blimps. While childhood obesity can lead to obesity as adults, that doesn’t mean they will end up that way. Genetics sometimes play a huge role in weight gain. It doesn’t help that a child sits in a classroom all day and gets 1/2 hour for phys. ed. Instead of classrooms investing more and more in Wii consoles as "rewards", maybe they should be using that time spent outside promoting jump ropes, hop scotch, or even (God forbid!) something like baseball or dodgeball.

  3. this is what doctors are for.. all kids go to the doc at least once a year they don’t need the school to play doctor too.

  4. Erin says:

    I agree with Victoria. While it’s nice to think that all parents are aware of their child’s weight issues (or non-issues), the fact of the matter is that many do not, especially if they are overweight themselves. I see nothing wrong with a BMI screening. While it is not the most accurate, it does provide a basis for parents to go by. In my opinion, it is no different than any other health screenings offered by schools, such as hearing tests. As long as the letters are written in an objective, non-biased manner, the schools are making an honorable attempt at reducing the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country.

  5. Victoria says:

    Considering how many overweight children I see, perhaps parents do need a letter from school. Although most bmi tests aren’t super accurate, its the most fiscally responsible way to take an assessment of large quantities of people. Also, I agree that active kids can be overweight and activity level is less accurate than most BMI tests to measure a kids risk of being overweight. I don’t see why its even an issue that parents get a letter. If you disagree pay money out of your own pocket to get an accurate assessment and take it to the school of you are so inclined. Otherwise get over it…maybe there truly is another kid who is obese and their parents need the wake up call and the education material that could potentially change that kids life. If you feel embarrassed then you probably feel guilty.

  6. Morgan Hart says:

    A very active child can still be obese-not saying this mom’s kid is, but if you take in more calories than you can burn, you gain weight. So diet is just as important as activity. Also, schools send home many letters. A parent does not have to choose to share the content. That being said, schools should get out of the business of trying to parent children. In this day and age, most people know if their kids are fat, and they know what makes them that way. Unless society decides to ban stupid people from procreating, the only option is to continue educating children on how to make healthy choices when they are old enough to make their own choices, offer healthy foods during lunch, and quit cutting recess. Sending home a letter telling parents they have a fat child doesn’t make me upset, it just seems pointless.

  7. Sarah Murphy says:

    I do believe that it is the parent’s responsibility to feed and educate their children about proper eating and exercise. The school might be there to reinforce but not to send letters home.

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