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Statistics can carry too much weight


Maybe Hillary Clinton was misquoted when she said it takes a village to raise a child. Perhaps what she really meant was it takes a village and a Department of Public Health. That, at least, is what the Commonwealth of Massachusetts seems to think.

Recently it sent out letters to parents of children who, it had determined, were overweight or obese. The DPH had not actually seen these children, but it arrived at its conclusions by the use of statistics.

Among those who received one of those “fat letters” were the parents of 94-pound Cameron Watson, an active 10-year-old who plays baseball, football and had just won a state wrestling championship. But a statistic called his body mass index (BMI) indicated that he was overweight.

Matt and Tracy Watson were understandably upset, as any parent would be who received an official notice saying, “Your kid’s a porker.”

“No one wants to get a letter being told they are obese, that’s a very strong, uncomfortable word,” Matt Watson told CNN. “I don’t think all of a sudden we have to wake-up and say the people of Massachusetts need to be told everything to do with their kids, whether it’s to feed them a cupcake or to feed them broccoli.”

Like the Massachusetts DPH, I’ve never met Cameron. But I did see a video of him doing pushups and sit-ups. He appeared to be of average height and he didn’t seem to have a beer belly, love handles or more than one chin.

The Massachusetts DPH defended its practice of using statistics as a health indicator, citing yet another statistic that found 32.3 percent of Massachusetts children fall into the overweight or obese category.

“Helping children maintain a healthy weight may prevent serious illness later in life,” a spokeswoman declared. “BMI screenings are intended to raise parents’ awareness about this issue.”

Regardless of age, obesity definitely is a major topic these days. Government agencies are addressing it with the same intensity they once used to root out Communists.

But sometimes obesity is in the eye of the beholder. Or in the eye of a government agency. And sometimes, perhaps, statistics are the ones that are given too much weight.

I went online to check my weight, so I could be prepared if the state of Ohio ever decides to take on the issue of obese grandfathers. According to one site my BMI was “marginal” and, according to another I was too heavy if I weighed more than 173 pounds.

When I stepped on the scale this morning, I weighed 175.

I hope the state of Ohio doesn’t send my parents a letter.


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