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Fri, Oct. 18

Editorial: Kids' health shouldn't be about the messenger

Most parents are blessed that their child's school district provides any type of health guidance and education possible. If doctors and nurses are involved with the faculty, even better.

The Flagstaff Unified School District estimates that almost 50 percent of the district's elementary school students are either overweight or bordering on overweight, based on nonprofit care groups' parent-consented studies. One local elementary school alone found that 42 percent of its students measured this fall were deemed overweight based on the body mass index.

Examining the kids' health was the easy part. Showing parents the results is where the district is expecting things to get sticky, as some parents brace for letters being sent home from the schools with the results that their child is obese.

Let's remember, that these are children's health results; not the impugned judgment of a family's lifestyle. Health officials are morally compelled to inform parents if their child finds difficulty doing activities, is lethargic, experiences breathlessness, finds white or purple blemishes on their abdomen, or if unconverted sugar is floating around in their blood (diabetes). All are symptoms of obesity. Educators may sweat out AIMS scores, but doctors and nurses sweat out medical results. "If I was to hand those numbers of those lab results to a group of physicians, they would think we were running a geriatric clinic for people with cardiovascular disease," Richard Henn, director of education programs at Flagstaff Medical Center, told the Arizona Daily Star.

The schools acknowledge the personal intrusion that the topic has on a family ("an emotional subject," noted the superintendent), and it's a certainty that kind of stigma can invade a student's entire social world. But anyone worried about the psychological effects on the child should consider first that stress and social pressure are also common symptoms of obesity. The child in question is likely already feeling weight-caused peer pressure, and that makes twice as many reasons for parents to act first and beef with the school district second.

If offended, parents should prove the districts wrong by reversing their child's health results for the next time. The doctors and the schools are daring parents to exact that very retribution.

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