The Way We Talk About Weight To Our Children Matters

By  | 

woman-on-scaleLast week, a six-year-old girl from Palm Beach Florida came home with a letter in her backpack regarding her BMI. The school sent the letter home with the child in a sealed envelope, meant for her parents to open and read. Her mother claims the child opened the letter herself and asked her mother if the school thought she was overweight.

It was a form letter from the school nurse, suggesting her child’s BMI may be high: “Your child recently completed a height/weight screening. 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.”

Laura Cacdac, mother to six-year-old Charley, called the school nurse who explained the child’s BMI index was high. Cacdac was so upset by this claim, she called her local news station to report what had happened. During the report, the child was made to read the letter on camera. Why?

“Her first question to me was ‘do they think I’m fat? Is there something wrong with me,'”  Cacdac said. “It is basically in my opinion telling me I am harming my child and doing wrong by her and then telling me how to properly feed my child.” She has opted her child out of all future health screenings.

Cacdac’s overreaction to the letter is far more damaging than the letter itself. That she put her six-year-old child on the news to read the letter out loud is more traumatizing than bringing a letter home that she probably didn’t comprehend to begin with. The station’s coverage shows the girl struggling to pronounce the words on the page. I have a hard time believing she understood what the letter was saying before her mother interpreted it for her and totally overreacted.

I saw this overreaction happen time and time again when NYC started sending home fitnessgrams with kids; mothers on my Facebook feed were completely horrified that their child would be referred to as “overweight.” Do I think it’s a great idea for schools to send this type of correspondence home with kids? No. But I think an even worse idea, is mothers who react as if being slightly overweight is the worst thing that could befall a child. What kind of message are we sending here?

Research has proven that mothers have the biggest impact on their daughters’ body image. We need to remember this when we decide what our children are old enough to process. There is no reason why a six-year-old should be discussing her weight on the news. This mother is so irate over the idea of her child being perceived as “slightly overweight,” that she’s put her child in a more awkward an possibly damaging position than the school did to begin with.

The way we talk about weight around our children matters. We’d all do well to remember that.

(photo: Sedlacek/ Shutterstock)