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Obesity letters: If policy doesn’t work, nix it

There’s no shame in pulling the plug on an experiment that didn’t work. Massachusetts health officials are reconsidering a policy, adopted in 2009, that required schools to send warning letters to parents of obese students. The hope was that the letters would spur families into taking action to help children lose weight.

The policy was worth trying — and now it’s worth ending. Anecdotal reports suggested that the letters contributed to bullying. In the meantime, a study published in 2011 of a similar program in California showed it did not bring down childhood obesity rates.

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Now, the state Public Health Commission wants to drop the requirement. Schools would continue to measure the height and weight of students, information that’s useful in tracking broader trends, and would still make measurements available to parents on request. But they would no longer have to send the letters.

Government policies should be evaluated on their effectiveness, but there’s often a tendency for them to outlive their usefulness, or become bureaucratically entrenched. Health officials, though, are showing a willingness to scrap policies that don’t work — something that should always be applauded.

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