Nicki Anderson: Weighing in on junior high fitness program
By Nicki Anderson For The Sun December 10, 2012 4:54PM
Updated: January 13, 2013 6:14AM
In Friday’s Sun, an article by Sun staff reporter Susan Frick Carlman caught my attention. It seems there’s been some unrest amongst parents about weigh-ins for District 203 junior high students.
Teachers feel the data they get is necessary to track the health and fitness history of students. Conversely, parents feel the methods used to gather this data, more specifically weigh-ins, is putting kids in an uncomfortable situation. Teachers think its necessary and can be private. Parents feel it will do more harm in the long run. So who’s right and who’s wrong on this touchy subject? Well, perhaps both.
I feel compelled to voice my thoughts on this for a few reasons. First, I was an obese teen. Second, I’ve been involved in the health and fitness world since 1979, and finally, I’m a parent, and I’ve been a teacher.
My main concern with this current method of gathering data is the weigh-ins. Whether they’re done privately or not is irrelevant, it’s just not healthy for young girls who are already fixated on weight.
There is no doubt that today, kids are heavier than ever, and Naperville is no exception. Though our obesity rate is lower here, there is no shortage of eating disorders, especially with girls who strive to achieve an ideal weight.
During my years as a fitness professional, I saw a number of girls 12 to 18 who came through my doors. To me, they looked lovely; however, they felt they were “fat” and wanted to tone up, get lean and have a six-pack. When I was overweight, I never thought about ripped abs and getting lean, I just knew I wasn’t comfortable in my skin. The message these young girls get from magazines, television and, of course, social media is that thin is vital to fit in.
As for the teachers, I understand that gathering data is an important part of the fitness program, but I believe there are other ways to do this. First and foremost, get families involved. The main reason kids today struggle with weight is an unhealthy diet and too little activity. Even with kids who appear to have a healthy weight, nutrition is lacking. Good health starts at home, and parents need to be a role model that their kids can emulate. Again, I worked with hundreds of families over the years, and I found that diet and family activity is not always a priority.
Why not have kids track their activity on a daily basis and create a diary of sorts? Have them track how many veggies and fruits they’re eating. Invite a dietician to school to educate the kids about what constitutes a healthy diet. Have a family fitness night. Create opportunities for kids to positively learn and succeed. This age is especially delicate, and weigh-ins are just one more unhealthy stressor these kids don’t need.
Maria Rago, a psychologist in Naperville, was mentioned in the article saying, “No good is going to come out of it.” She also suggested that school is not the proper environment to gather weight information from kids. Though this program has been going on for 10 years, as stated by the instructional coordinator for the district’s program, perhaps there is no better time than now to reconsider the approach.
Girls can be cruel; we all know this. Yes, yes, boys can be, too, but girls, who are trying to find themselves and figure out who they are, can be hurtful in ways they’ve yet to understand. Something like weigh-ins is particularly sensitive and should not even be considered for junior high students.
Size varies too much and diversity, though part of nature, it’s not understood if they can’t fit in. Don’t think for one minute that there isn’t some girl walking around saying, “Oh, I’m so fat, I weighed myself today and I weigh 95 pounds!”
How do you think that makes the girl that weighs in at 120 or 130 feel? I was there, I know how they feel. Again, even if weigh-ins are done privately, it can trigger obsession, leading to an eating disorder, leading to depression and a lifelong issue with weight.
Leave the weigh-ins to the doctors. Physical education is an opportunity to build self-esteem in students. So why not develop a program that empowers these kids and inspires a healthy lifestyle. My hunch is that’s the goal of both parents and teachers.
Do you have an inspiring story about your journey to fitness? Share it with Nicki Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.