Arkansas, led then by Gov. Mike “Grits and Gravy” Huckabee, was one of 10 states that began measuring body mass indexes in school students and sending notices home — “fat letters,” as they were indelicately known.

Now comes a study about whether the BMI checks have had a positive impact since enactment in 2003. From the New York Times:

But a new study of the first state to adopt the practice shows that the letters have had almost no effect, at least on older teenagers.

The disappointing results not only raise questions about the efficacy of the letters but highlight the challenges schools face more generally in addressing adolescent obesity.

Kevin A. Gee, the author of the study, which looked at high school juniors and seniors in Arkansas and appears in The Journal of Adolescent Health, said that while the letters attempted to embed in a school setting the public-health goal of slowing obesity, the reality of adolescence could confound the best intentions.

“The typical 16-year-old’s reaction to getting a letter at home and having your parents tell you to eat right and exercise, would be, ‘Don’t nag me,’ ” said Dr. Gee, an assistant professor of education policy at the University of California, Davis.

So indisputably, painfully, from first-hand-experience true? 

Here’s a link to the study. And its summary:


BMI screening and parental notification during late adolescence, given prior screening and notification in early adolescence, was not significantly related to BMI-for-age z-scores, the probability of being in a lower weight classification or exercise and dietary intake behaviors.

Exposing 11th and 12th graders to BMI screening and reporting, given that they had been exposed in prior grades, was not associated with adolescents’ health outcomes.

This is  at variance with past findings in Arkansas that the state had slowed or stopped the advance of youthful obesity through the BMI measurement, restrictions on vending machines in schools and other initiatives aimed at healthier children. Here’s the 2013-14 assessment.