Body Mass Index (BMI) at School

Gathering students’ BMIs, in the aggregate, can help schools monitor the success of obesity prevention efforts; screening students’ BMIs for individual health assessment purposes is more controversial and requires schools to address privacy and parent communication, among other issues.

Here is a summary of BMI assessment recommendations for schools, based on a review of expert guidance from the the Institute of Medicine, the World Health Organization, and others. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list and the links to other resources.

tools for school BMI assessment (tools_for_school_bmi_assessment.jpg)

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Read and print the complete list of school obesity prevention recommendations.

Assess students’ BMIs, confidentially and in aggregate, to track the prevalence of obesity and evaluate the success of obesity prevention programs (1,2)
If students’ BMI’s are screened for individual health assessment purposes, ensure that schools address the following: (2,3,4,5)

  • student privacy
  • student safety and support
  • staff training
  • accuracy of data collection
  • sensitive and informative parent/guardian communication
  • referral to community resources for follow-up, as needed
  • healthy eating and physical activity promotion, using science-based strategies

BMI Assessment at SchoolSource List

1. Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Healthy Schools Program FrameworkOpens in New Window. 2009. Accessed July 11, 2011.

2. American Heart Association. Policy Position Statement on Body Mass Index (BMI) Surveillance and Assessment in SchoolsOpens in New Window. 2008. Accessed July 11, 2011.

3. Pekruhn C. Preventing Childhood Obesity: A School Health Policy GuideOpens in New Window. Arlington, VA: Center for Safe and Healthy Schools, National Association of State Boards of Education; 2009.

4. Lagarde F, LeBlanc CMA, McKenna M, et al. School policy framework: implementation of the WHO global strategy on diet, physical activity and healthOpens in New Window. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2008.

5. Institute of Medicine. Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the BalanceOpens in New Window Washington, D.C.: Institute of Medicine; 2005.

Terms of Use

The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site is to provide timely information about obesity’s global causes, consequences, prevention, and control, for the public, health and public health practitioners, business and community leaders, and policymakers. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The Web site’s obesity prevention policy recommendations are based primarily on a review of U.S. expert guidance, unless otherwise indicated; in other countries, different policy approaches may be needed to achieve improvements in food and physical activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices, for all.

Terms of Use

The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site is to provide timely information about obesity’s global causes, consequences, prevention, and control, for the public, health and public health practitioners, business and community leaders, and policymakers. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The Web site’s obesity prevention policy recommendations are based primarily on a review of U.S. expert guidance, unless otherwise indicated; in other countries, different policy approaches may be needed to achieve improvements in food and physical activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices, for all.