Concerned by estimates that half of Oklahomans are overweight, a state legislator said Tuesday he will file legislation requiring students to be checked annually to identify possible weight problems. All students 16 years and younger would be required to have a screening to check their body mass indexes, said state Rep. Richard Morrissette. Students would be weighed and measured, and the BMI data would be used to determine whether they have excess fat or are underweight. The cost for scales and other equipment is estimated to be less than $3 million, said Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City. Students in public schools would be checked during the school year. Arrangements would be made for homeschooled students also to be screened, Morrissette said. "This is not a Democrat or Republican issue; it’s an Oklahoma issue clearly,” Morrissette said. The checks would find children in the "red zone — those that are in danger of being malnourished or on the other end that their obesity levels are so high that their health is at risk.” Morrissette, who still isdrafting language for the bill, said letters would be sent to parents of students found to be either overweight or underweight. The letter would tell parents to take the information to a doctor. However, if parents don’t work with school and health officials, the matter could be turned over to the state Department of Human Services for possible investigation, he said. "If they’re malnourished in some way, that is some form of abuse,” Morrissette said. "This is not meant to be punitive; it’s meant to help children,” he added.
Not the first stateAbout 11 states are performing body mass index checks and related health programs, he said. Some opposition developed in those states from parents concerned that collecting height and weight data violates the children’s privacy and intrudes into long-held cultural practices. Morrissette said his legislation would focus on children’s nutrition, not how they appear, saying the shape of someone’s body has little to do with general health. The intent of his legislation is to educate parents and to bring about opportunities for better health for children who aren’t eating the right kinds of food, he said. "Oklahoma ranks 45th for overall health,” Morrissette said. "This is not a physical fitness proposal, nor is it a mandate on personal body type. It is a nutrition bill with a near-zero fiscal impact that has the potential to improve every aspect of life in Oklahoma, as children need to learn at an early age the importance of eating healthy.”
AT A GLANCE
Federal guidelinesAccording to guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, body mass index measurement programs should adhere to these safeguards in order to reduce the risk of harming students:
• Introduce the program to school staff and community members and obtain parental consent.
• Train staff to administer the effort.
• Establish safeguards to protect privacy for students participating.
• Obtain and use accurate equipment.
• Accurately calculate and interpret the data.
• Develop efficient data collection procedures.
• Avoid using BMI results to evaluate student or teacher performance.
• Regularly evaluate the program and its outcomes and consequences.