Step Right Up–Or Don’t

One of the most awful things about grade school was the yearly weight check. Teachers would line us up in long rows in the corridors. Then one by one we’d have to stand on a big balance scale in front of the school nurse. There was no privacy curtain, so other kids could see where you’d tip the scales. Even if the precise number didn’t get around, there would still be snide remarks to me and the other kids who weren’t stick-skinny.scale

There was no follow-up support, counseling, or nutrition advice. There wasn’t even any new knowledge imparted. We could all step on scales at home and read the numbers. Nope—it was just a yearly weigh-in with a heavy dose of embarrassment. It was enough to make you want to go for some ice cream or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

Now Enrique C. Morales Villegas is calling for mandatory measuring of the body mass index and other measures for all Mexican teens at age 18. Additional screening would occur every three years after that. Morales Villegas is Director of the Cardiometabolic Research Centre in Aguascalientes, Mexico. The announcement comes as part of the 2013 Mexican Congress of Cardiology.

“I have proposed to the Mexican government that 18 year-olds should have obligatory measurements of glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index (BMI), with repeat assessment every three years. Screening could be done in schools, shopping centres and other public places and if an abnormality is found a strategy should be in place to treat it. This would be easy and inexpensive and I am waiting for the government’s response,” said the doctor.

The good thing is that the doctor wants to reduce cardiovascular disease problems in Mexico. Cardiovascular disease is indeed a serious health problem. And the doctor wants a strategy in place to treat any problems that screening finds.

The bad news is that he’s proposing to do it in a way that interferes with people’s privacy. Yes, knowing these things is good for your health. But I wouldn’t want Big Brother forcing me to step on a scale and get a height check so the government knows how to get access to my BMI.

Similar arguments came forward when various American school districts pushed through mandatory student drug testing for teens in extracurricular activities. A divided Supreme Court held this was constitutional in the 2002 case of Board of Education v. Earls. Nonetheless, the fact that something may be constitutional doesn’t make it a good idea.

Advocating for good health is a good thing. But people’s right to privacy is a good thing too. Let’s not destroy one for the sake of the other.

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