School-based body mass index (BMI) measurement has attracted attention across the nation as a potential approach to address obesity among youth. Little is known, however, about its impact or effectiveness in changing obesity rates or related physical activity and dietary behaviors that influence obesity. This article describes current BMI-measurement programs and practices, research, and expert recommendations and provides guidance on implementing such an approach.
An extensive search for scientific articles, position statements and current state legislation related to BMI-measurement programs was conducted. A literature and policy review was written and presented to a panel of experts. This panel, comprising experts in public health, education, school counseling, school medical care and parenting, reviewed and provided expertise on this article.
School-based BMI-measurement programs are conducted for surveillance or screening purposes. Thirteen states are implementing school-based BMI-measurement programs as required by legislation. Few studies exist that assess the utility of these programs in preventing increases in obesity or the effects these programs may have on weight-related knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of youth and their families. Typically, expert organizations support school-based BMI surveillance; however, controversy exists over screening. BMI screening does not currently meet all of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ criteria for determining whether screening for specific health conditions should be implemented in schools.
Schools initiating BMI-measurement programs should adhere to safeguards to minimize potential harms and maximize benefits, establish a safe and supportive environment for students of all body sizes, and implement science-based strategies to promote physical activity and healthy eating.