By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff
Public health regulators this morning unanimously approved screening Massachusetts students to determine if they are overweight, part of a major campaign to shrink bulging waistlines and stem obesity-related diseases once rarely seen in the young.
The vote by the Public Health Council -- an appointed board of doctors, academics, and service providers -- means that starting in the fall, public schools across the state will begin measuring and weighing first-, fourth-, seventh- and 10th-graders. Parents who do not want their children screened will be able to opt out.
The screenings will be phased in during the next two school years, with more than 286,000 students expected to have undergone evaluation by the end of the 2010-2011 academic year.
Parents will receive a report telling them how their children fared on the body mass index, a standard measurement used to analyze if someone weighs too much or too little. The report will also include recommendations on dealing with a child's weight problem, including a suggestion to visit the pediatrician.
"We think it would be a mistake to just send home a number and leave parents hanging without providing an interpretation," said Dr. Lauren Smith, medical director of the state Department of Public Health.
The initiative is modeled on programs in Arkansas and New York City schools that have been calculating the body mass index of students for several years.
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