A bill introduced this month in Congress would put the federal and state governments in the business of tracking how fat, or skinny, American children are.
States receiving federal grants provided for in the bill would be required to annually track the Body Mass Index of all children ages 2 through 18. The grant-receiving states would be required to mandate that all health care providers in the state determine the Body Mass Index of all their patients in the 2-to-18 age bracket and then report that information to the state government. The state government, in turn, would be required to report the information to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for analysis.
The Healthy Choices Act–introduced by Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee–would establish and fund a wide range of programs and regulations aimed at reducing obesity rates by such means as putting nutritional labels on the front of food products, subsidizing businesses that provide fresh fruits and vegetables, and collecting BMI measurements of patients and counseling those that are overweight or obese.
Section 101 of the bill amends the Public Health Services Act by stating that health care providers must record the Body Mass Index of all children ages 2 through 18. “The provision relates to all children in states that accept grants under the bill,” a spokesperson for Rep. Kind told CNSNews.com. “However, it is important to note that no one is forced to come in for a doctor’s visit to get their BMI tested. BMI will be taken at times when the child makes an otherwise scheduled doctor’s visit.”
BMI is calculated by taking one’s weight in pounds and height in inches, multiplying that number by one’s height in inches and then multiplying that number by 703. Any number over 24 is considered overweight, with higher numbers resulting in a diagnosis of obese (BMI = [weight / (height x height)] x 703).
To pay for implementing BMI data gathering, Sec. 102 of the bill states that the federal government will give grants to states that meet certain criteria, including having “the capacity to store basic demographic information (including date of birth, gender and geographic area of residence), height, weight, and immunization data for each resident of the state.”
The grants also will pay for personnel and equipment necessary to measure patients’ BMI.
The grants also require that if a child’s BMI is greater than the 95th percentile for the child’s age and gender, the state will provide “information on how to lower BMI and information on state and local obesity prevention programs.”
Rep. Kinder’s spokesperson said that any data used to generate a report on the BMI data collected would not include patients’ names.
The bill also requires HHS to share with Congress and other government officials, including the secretaries of education and agriculture, its analysis of the BMI data collected not more than one year after it gathers all of the data from states.
This analysis, the bill states, would attempt to identify obesity trends in regions of the United States and how those trends vary according to gender and socioeconomic status–although the bill does not spell out how socioeconomic status of patients would be determined.
On May 6, the bill was referred to the House subcommittee on Highways and Transit.
Co-sponsors of the bill are Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Gregorio Sablan (D-Mich.)
At a press conference last week to announce the introduction of the bill, Kind emphasized it would help “busy American families.”
“Making the healthy choice the easy choice for our families is essential to ensuring our quality of life,” Kind said. “I am pleased to work on legislation that helps provide the opportunities that meet the needs of busy American families.