Beginning in 2011, Ohio state law will require school districts to assess body mass index, Superintendent Mike Johnson said at the Bexley school board's Nov. 15 meeting.

Beginning in 2011, Ohio state law will require school districts to assess body mass index, Superintendent Mike Johnson said at the Bexley school board's Nov. 15 meeting.

The BMI requirement is part of the "Healthy Choices for Healthy Children" bill that is intended to decrease and prevent childhood obesity in Ohio schools.

Johnson told ThisWeek that by state law BMI will be evaluated in kindergarten, first grade, fifth grade and ninth grade. School districts can ask for a waiver from the state to opt out of the testing.

"We have to put a policy together by June 1 (2011) to comply or ask for the waiver," Johnson said. "It is my feeling that we ought to put a policy together."

The policy would look at ways to garner family support for the measure, Johnson said. He said the school district would measure BMI within the context of educating students about health and wellness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, BMI is a number calculated from a person's weight and height. BMI "provides a reliable indicator of body fat for most people and is used to screen for health problems," the CDC said.

The school district would report BMI numbers back to families, Johnson said. State law requires school districts to report an average for each grade level to the state. He said the district will be cautious addressing BMI because of body image issues.

School board member Marlee Snowdon said the state has mandated school districts take BMI and report it to families and school officials are working hard to figure out the best way to screen for BMI.

"I think it is a challenging but important issue," she said.

Johnson has personal experience with BMI issues having received a BMI score from a wellness clinic that put him in the obese range. But a visit to his doctor clarified that BMI is a gross number that doesn't factor in other issues.

"It doesn't take into account athletics or weight-lifting, if you do a lot of that kind of thing, which I do," he said.

Snowdon said BMI rankings are not flawless and sometimes a seemly inaccurate "obese" label goes on those who, because of intervening causes, are otherwise very healthy.

"I believe as long as it is accurate, more information is better so I do support the idea of giving families more information about their child's health," she said. "I am confident that our administrators can carefully craft a policy that will address these concerns."

A high BMI score could also be related to the maturation of the human body. Johnson said most children have body fat which plays a part in the BMI score of a child.

"We have always heard the over-used term baby fat," he said. "That's associated with development a little bit."

When young people enter pre-adolescence there is a certain amount of body fat that comes with a developing body, especially with girls, Johnson said. The discussion is more complicated than simply measuring BMI, he said.

Johnson said he would like to present a preliminary policy to the board at its Dec. 13 meeting. He anticipates producing a policy that meets the state requirements and respects the privacy of families.

Snowdon said when the policy is presented to the board she will look for something that carefully balances the important public interests of healthy children with the equally important interest of promoting a positive body-image.

School board member Carol Fey said she supports the district's focus on improving the health of students and the community at large.

"Although I will wait to see what the policy is to make sure that it is not unduly invasive," she said.