Panel Paper: Do BMI Grades Work? Obesity Reporting in New York City Schools

Friday, November 7, 2014 : 10:15 AM
Galisteo (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Amy Ellen Schwartz1, Douglas Almond2 and Ajin Lee2, (1)New York University, (2)Columbia University
Spurred by alarming reports of an epidemic in childhood obesity, school districts around the country are increasingly measuring fitness and adopting fitness “report cards” as part of their effort to improve reduce obesity in their schools. Fully implemented in New York City in 2007 and 2008, the Fitnessgram report cards provide teachers, students and parents with information on Body Mass Index (BMI) along with categorical designations identifying “overweight” and “obese”, according to age and sex specific cutoffs specified by the Centers for Disease Control.  According to these criteria, over one third of New York City Public School students are either overweight or obese.  We use longitudinal, student-level data on New York City public school students to examine the effects of these categorical designations on student BMI and obesity, using a regression discontinuity design.  As expected, current BMI strongly and positively associated with future BMI.  We focus on the discontinuous treatment with the overweight/obesity label, which is a deterministic function of the BMI, age, and sex of student.  We compare those “just barely” designated as overweight (obese) to those just barely designated as "not overweight" (not obese). Preliminary results suggest little or no beneficial effect of the overweight and obesity labels, with some heterogeneity across schools and subgroups.  Furthermore, utilizing the linkage of BMI records to academic outcomes, we will consider whether effects vary by academic performance, and indeed whether subsequent academic performance is causally affected by the overweight/obesity labels.