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'Fat letters' create mixed feelings among parents

'Fat letters' create mixed feelings among parents

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Some parents are upset that their children are being sent home from school with "fat letters," or notes expressing concern that their children are considered obese.

Annually, school children across the state are required to take a health test that looks at six areas of physical fitness. All students are notified of their results.

A father we spoke with, who asked to be identified only as Craig,  sees physical fitness as a top priority for his fifth-grader, Max.

"I hope he is healthy and if he is not, I would like to know," said Craig.

So, this year, when he receives Max's physical fitness letter, he will be looking forward to learning where his son falls in the rankings.

"I think any testing that lets people know how to better take care of their children would be good. I don't see what the harm would be," he said.

Students across the state are required by the department of education to take a physical fitness test during Grades 5, 7 and 9. Students are then notified of their test results, typically through a letter.

Along with the results of the physical test, a body mass index (BMI) reading is also included. With a height-to-weight ratio measurement, the BMI designates if a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. Many parents disagree, citing repercussions the letters may cause.

"I think it sends a bad message to the kids," said Will Graves who has a high-school aged son, "All the kids talk and they all know about everything. I don't think that it would be a good thing to send a letter home because it could lead to bullying, or words, or people getting in fights at school."

According to this year's state physical fitness report, 32.6 percent of Kern County's 2012-13 fifth-, seventh- and ninth-graders fell in the "high risk" category for body composition. That's up from 31.8 the previous year.

"It will tell me how much fat my kid has and how much muscle, which will indirectly tell me, is he getting enough walk, or what not," said Shahid Hafeez, who has a 4-year-old son. Even though his son is in kindergarten, Hafeez said he looks forward to his son taking the test, because they teach parents about healthy lifestyles, diets and exercise.

Just two weeks ago, Massachusetts decided to stop sending home the letters over concerns of bullying and privacy. Some parents are concerned the letters will also result in self-esteem issues and eating disorders amid students.

The state's physical fitness report results came out last week. California is one of 19 states that require schools to screen for obesity.

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