This school year in addition to getting a scholastic report card on your child, imagine receiving a health report card, which would tell you how overweight or underweight your child is.  If you lived in Cambridge Massachusetts, that would be the case.

A study published last month showed that parents who received the health and fitness report card were twice as more likely to know or acknowledge that their child was overweight, and were twice as more likely to plan weight-control activities for their child.

But, why all this focus on childhood obesity? Today 15 percent of children are obese, a number which has doubled since the late 1970’s. Nationally, an epidemic in obesity is being recognized. If unstopped this epidemic will lead to unprecedented number of adults with diabetes, heart disease and scores of other illnesses. Doctors and researchers agree that the root cause of the obesity epidemic is unhealthy diet, “fast-fatty-foods”, and lack of exercise.

When we were young after-school time was filled with physical activities. Local neighborhood kids played kickball, basketball, street hockey, touch football depending on the season. There were no video games or enormity of cable channels to tantalize us into a sedentary life style. Today over half the high school students watch over 3 hours of television every school night, and less than half of students are enrolled in physical education classes.

Health report cards are just another attempt to inform parents about their child’s health and to provide a progress report.

So what would this report card contain? A recent report by University of Tennessee Health Science Center suggests that every parent and child should know their BMI, which is the body mass index. The BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. If your BMI is over 25 (approximately 10-15 lbs. above normal weight),  you are in the 85th percentile and classified as “overweight”. If your BMI is over 30 (approximately 30 lbs above normal weight) then you are in the 95th percentile and classified as “obese”. Just like kids receive their TCAPS scores showing academic fitness, the BMI provides one score for the health status of a child.

Change is difficult. It requires first the change in knowledge, then attitude and finally a change in behavior. Thought the Cambridge study showed that health report cards changed the knowledge and attitude of parents towards diet and activity of their overweight children,  it did not show any significant change in behavior – at least for now. Behavior change takes decades, just look at smoking.