The effects of body mass index screening and reporting on students' self-esteem and body image

Sherrell Dianne Mickens, University of Pennsylvania


There is a growing obesity epidemic in America, and it is affecting children as much as adults. In response, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health mandated that in the 2005-2006 school year all school health officials were required to conduct a Body Mass Index (BMI) screening on all children attending public school. The BMI was used to identify students who were obese and thus at risk for serious health issues. The Pennsylvania Department of Public Health created a mandate that requires school nurses to calculate the body mass index for all school aged children beginning in the 2005-2006 school year. After the Body Mass Index is calculated for a student the school nurse is required to send home a notice to parents informing them that their child is above, below or at normal body weight. Many parents and educators are concerned that this information can affect a child's self esteem and distort their body image, which can lead to eating disorders. This research study was conducted to determine whether this mandate and the process itself affect a child's self esteem. This study took advantage of the natural experiment offered by the new state mandate, examining the consequences of identifying clinically obese children at the elementary school level. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of the PA Department of Public Health's mandate that required every elementary school nurse to calculate the Body Mass Index for every student attending public school in the state of Pennsylvania and to determine if there was any consequences on the students' body image and self esteem. The subjects, the students in an urban school district, were randomly assigned to a treatment group, where the BMI was mailed home and a control group. The study gathered quantitative information from the participants using the Piers-Harris 2: The Way I Feel About Myself student survey. The results were analyzed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences and a regression analysis was conducted. The results of the regression analysis demonstrated that the treatment, who received the BMI had no significant impact on the experimental group's body image or self esteem. The study also gathered qualitative information from the parents of the students who were identified as being obese or overweight. The results of these surveys indicated that parents did not believe that their child's body image and self-esteem had been negatively impacted by the Body Mass Index Screening process. The results of the parent survey also indicated that process for notifying parents needed to be carefully monitored and that educational programs for parents and children needed to be developed to help parents understand the value of engaging their children in living a healthy lifestyle.

Subject Area

Elementary education|Psychotherapy|Health education

Recommended Citation

Mickens, Sherrell Dianne, "The effects of body mass index screening and reporting on students' self-esteem and body image" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3270865.