Public schools have been collecting students’ body mass index (BMI) data for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which compiled reports in 2011 and 2015. BMI is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters.
Now, DHHS no longer wants the information and is leaving it up to each district to decide what to do.
The move seems to contradict conclusions in the 2015 report, which states, “Future efforts to compile, analyze, and report student BMI data in Nebraska continue to be warranted.”
Dr. John Skretta, superintendent of Norris Schools, says his district will continue to use BMI as a health indicator.
“Some schools will just opt out of getting that measurement, and I think that that’s unfortunate, because the data do have value,” Skretta tells Nebraska Radio Network.
He says they use the district wide data on some physical education and nutrition grant applications.
Skretta was one of several people who testified against a legislative effort to prevent DHHS from collecting BMI in 2015. The bill (LB29) failed to advance out of the Education Committee and was not reconsidered this year.
Supporters of the bill argue the state should not be collecting such sensitive information and did not give parents the possibility to opt out of the process.
A DHHS spokesperson says all regulations are reviewed as the department receives feedback on them. DHHS is proposing revisions to the school screenings regulations, including removing BMI calculations, but allowing districts to still collect the information and not report it to the state.
The Nebraska Association of School Boards (NASB) does not have a formal position on the proposal, but John Spatz, executive director, says they are “curious” about the motivation behind it.
“The Whole Child Project is encouraging schools to use health and fitness data to link to student achievement,” Spatz said in a statement to Nebraska Radio Network. “Data shows that healthier students do better in school. Under the state’s new accountability system, AQuESTT, schools can be recognized for creating healthy environments for their students to excel.”
Spatz says the physical and behavioral health of students is relevant to their ultimate success, and NASB hopes the Whole Child Project can continue to lead in this area with the state as a partner.
DHHS is holding a public hearing to gather input on the proposed changes to school screenings and BMI data collection. It is scheduled for Friday, June 24, at 9 a.m. (Central Time) in the State Office Building, Lower Level D, 301 Centennial Mall South, Lincoln, NE.
Written comments to DHHS must be postmarked or received by 5 p.m. (CT) June 24.