Lyons Amps Up Battle Cry Against 'Fat Letters'
He's calling for reform of the Department of Public Health.
Several weeks after filing legislation to eliminate BMI monitoring in schools, State Rep. Jim Lyons of Andover is stepping up his battle against the "fat letters" and calling for "top-to-bottom reform" of the state's Department of Health.
"The DPH acts like bureaucratic bullies, when it deals with families and school children," Lyons wrote about the controversial BMI letters in a statement Thursday. "At the same time, this bureaucracy has manifestly failed to protect public health and public safety in its disastrous lack of oversight of pharmaceutical manufacturers and its mishandling of state drug labs."
A child's BMI is factored with a BMI-for-age chart established by the Centers for Disease Control, and a percentile (compared with age and gender) is determined for classification: underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese. Those in the 95th percentile are classified as obese.
In 2009, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health adopted a "BMI initiative" requiring public schools to calculate the BMI of children and teens of certain ages and send the results to the children's parents along with instructions for parents on dealing with the child's weight issues.
"BMI screenings are part of a multi-faceted approach to address the significant public health problem of obesity," DPH spokesperson Anne Roach said. "Children with a high BMI are more likely to become overweight or obese adults and be at higher risk for diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Helping children maintain a healthy weight may prevent serious illness later in life. The latest BMI report showed that 32.3% of students in Massachusetts were either overweight or obese."
North andover Selectman Tracy Watson filed a petition with Lyons after her son Cameron was issued a letter saying he was "obese."
Lyons introduced what he calls "An Act to Protect the Privacy of Children," which would prevent the state from mandating the collection of students' Body Mass Index information. Lyons said he took up this effort after parents contacted him outraged about receiving the letters.
State Sen. Kathleen O'Connor Ives and State Rep. Diana DiZoglio also signed on to the legislation.
And now, Lyons is targeting Gov. Deval Patrick, pointing out the recent statewide scandals involving drug labs and even calling the DPH "inept" regarding pharmaceutical oversight.
"Here is another attempt by the Patrick Administration to micromanage local communities," Lyons wrote. “Where does an Administration that has mishandled matters vital to public health and public safety have the arrogance to interfere in family life and burden local communities?"
The issue isn't likely to fade away any time soon. In addition to the several local news outlets that have spotlighted the "fat letters" in the week since the initial Patch story ran, it's now being covered by national media including NBC, Fox News, The New York Daily News, HLN, The Washington Times and The Huffington Post.