A new study questions whether fitnessgrams — report cards on fitness — issued by New York City public schools are having a positive effect on the health and weight of their students.
The study by researchers at New York University, Syracuse University and Columbia University appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The fitnessgram reports are sent home to more than 870,000 New York City public school students each year to share with their family and health care providers. The New York City Department of Education uses the fitnessgram model developed by the Cooper Institute of Aerobic Research.
“I think there’s [a popular] notion that if you give people information, things will get better,” study author Amy Ellen Schwartz, a professor of public affairs at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, told Medical Daily. “If you tell kids or you tell parents their kids are overweight, they’ll do something about it. There’s a whole lot of reasons it might not work.”
The researchers obtained almost 3.6 million body mass index (BMI) reports for New York City public school students from 2007 to 2012 and focused on 442,408 female students whose BMI put them close to the overweight designation that was used during that time period. (Overweight students are notified that their BMI “falls outside a healthy weight” and they should review their BMI with a health care provider, according to the study.) Researchers compared girls whose BMIs were just below the overweight threshold to those girls whose scores put them on the overweight side of the cutoff. According to the study, “Whereas presumably an intent of BMI report cards was to slow BMI growth among heavier students, BMIs and weights did not decline relative to healthy peers when assessed the following academic year.”
The study was confined to data of high school students and did not assess whether the fitnessgrams resulted in parents or teens talking to their health care provider about the results.
“I was surprised by the whole thing,” Schwartz told Medical Daily. “I really thought there would be an impact. All over the country, folks are looking to these kinds of tools to improve outcomes, providing information [at a low cost] to get people to act differently, and it goes to show you have to do it in ways and at a time that’s useful.”
Adults with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight, and adults with a BMI of 30 or above are considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Children have recommended BMI cutoffs that are divided in percentile groups. Children in the 85th to 95th percentile are considered overweight, and children with a percentile of 95 or above are considered obese.
More than one-third of New York City public school students are either overweight or obese, according to Schwartz.