A viral tweet about weighing kids at school after lockdown is making the rounds, and we should all completely ignore it. Jeremy Vine, a British TV presenter, recently tweeted about schools’ weighing children “to make sure they shift the pounds they’ve put on during lockdown.” (If U.K. schools reopen, of course.)
But once we finally emerge from months of COVID-19 lockdown, literally the last thing we need is to focus on how much kids weigh.
“The transition that school-aged kids have been forced to go through with the COVID-19 pandemic is already more than enough for some to handle,” says Sabina Rebis, M.D., a family medicine doctor at Yale New Haven Health. “Weighing kids the second they return to the classroom not only contributes to more anxiety, but is likely more detrimental than beneficial.”
“The idea of weighing or measuring kids upon return to school is terrifying and cruel,” says Christina Fitzgerald, a pediatric sports dietitian and mom of three. “These kids were ripped from their day-to-day school and social life in a way that has never happened before and did their best to cope and thrive with as much emotional regulation as possible.”
School-mandated weigh-ins could also be particularly harmful for adolescent kids who should be growing rapidly. “By weighing these kids when they go back to ‘keep them on track,’ you are setting them up for potential growth delays and menstrual irregularities by encouraging restrictive dieting to course-correct their body size,” Fitzgerald says. “Not only could this set the stage for disordered eating, future fertility problems, and permanent growth delays, but it will also lead to weight stigmas, shaming, guilt, humiliation, and worry about their body when they are already worried about surviving a pandemic.”
Overall, experts say that changes in diet and moving less during the pandemic may well have affected the numbers on the scale. But schools don’t need to get involved in policing the weights of individual kids, and using weight as a proxy for health is misguided at best.
Erin Palinski-Wade, a dietitian and mom of three, says she “cannot stress enough” that weighing kids at school after lockdown will not do any good. “If we want to address negative health consequences of lockdown, the scale is not needed,” she says.
Instead, Palinski-Wade recommends teaching kids the practice of mindful eating, educating them about nutrition, encouraging them to move their bodies, and providing nutritious meal and snack options.
“If schools want to weigh children, they need to ask themselves why? What is the goal?” She asks. “If it is to support the nutrition and physical health of our children, knowing a number on the scale will not change any of that.”