ATLANTA --- What's in a number? Apparently quite a lot when you're talking about children and weight.
Fearing a backlash from parents, Georgia lawmakers have stripped an anti-obesity bill of a key provision that would have forced students to climb on the scale for twice-yearly "weigh-ins." The data would be used to determine whether a child has a health body mass index, calculated through a combination of height and weight measurements.
Several other states have BMI checks in their schools aimed at reining in the explosion of childhood obesity. Supporters say it often startles parents into action, leading them to seek medical help or change eating habits at home.
But critics argue that a person's BMI "score" is a simplistic way of looking at overall health. They worried that it would add to the stigma faced by overweight children.
Under the revamped bill, Georgia students would have to complete a physical fitness test instead. The details of that test would be determined by the state Department of Education, but the use of BMI would be banned.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Joseph Carter, said data show that one in three Georgia children is either obese or at risk of obesity.
"This is a serious public health issue," the Tifton Republican said.
Mr. Carter's original bill would have collected pupils' BMI data and combined it to come up with a school average. That number would be posted on school Web sites so Georgians could see how their school stacked up.
The BMI mandate passed in the state Senate over the objections of some Republican lawmakers who labeled it "nanny state legislation." It faced a rocky road in the House from Republican lawmakers who worried it was too intrusive.
Mr. Carter rewrote the measure to include a fitness test instead.
Health advocates and physicians groups remained supportive, saying the new test was a more well-rounded way to judge a child's overall health.
But even the scaled-back version was the target of criticism at a House hearing Wednesday.
Some worried that a fitness test might be as demoralizing to out-of-shape students as a weigh in.
The House Health and Human Services Committee is expected to vote on Mr. Carter's bill today.