March 3, 2005 • Volume 13 Number12
It's one of the fundamentals of writing: Find something you feel strongly about and let the words flow. As Meredith Stoffel '06 found, that old maxim can come in very handy.
Stoffel, a communication major from Bayside, Pa., is enrolled in the Washington Semester Journalism Program in Washington, DC, and spends two days a week interning at CBSNews.com, helping produce pieces for the "Opinion" section, among other duties. Last month, Stoffel published her own piece, criticizing a proposal in the New York State legislature to include a child's weight and body mass index (BMI) in school report cards to parents.
The bill, proposed by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, also would increase physical education in New York schools, which Stoffel applauds. While she supports the fight to combat childhood obesity through exercise and improved diet, Stoffel believes that making weight a criterion in a school's evaluation of its students will hurt rather than help.
"One would think that kids have enough to worry with their academics, without being graded on weight, too," she wrote. "It always used to bother me when other kids would ask what grades I received on my report card. Can you imagine if we started including weight? 'I have a BMI of 22, what's yours?'"
Doctors have long emphasized the role of parents in ensuring children's health and nutritional needs are met, Stoffel said, and parents should recognize their responsibility: "Kids aren't the ones driving themselves to fast food restaurants and they are not the ones buying the junk food at the store. They're kids and they need guidance."
Interviewed last week, Stoffel said she learned about the New York bill while doing research on childhood obesity as part of a different CBSNews.com assignment.
"At the beginning, the other interns and I were challenged to come up with and pitch ideas for opinion pieces, and to write them," she said. "When I saw this, it really struck a nerve, and I decided that's what I wanted to write about."
But putting her op-ed piece together was "nerve-wracking, because I'd never really written in that style before," said Stoffel, a features writer for BC's student paper The Heights. "My boss was really helpful, though, and he gave me some advice and suggestions about what kind of 'voice' to use. I also found a really good outside source, the medical director of inpatient psychiatry at Children's National Medical Center, to give me some useful information."
Stoffel followed another writer's axiom in doing her piece: Write from your own experience. "[What] bothers me most about grading body types is the example it sets," she wrote. "I have heard my 6-year-old niece mention on more than one occasion that she thinks she is fat. She is only in the first grade. Makes you think twice about grading fat.
"Children have plenty of insecurities to deal with. At some point most children think they are not as attractive or as smart as their peers. As a college junior, it was not that long ago that I was just a kid. I know what it is like to feel those insecurities. From as young as the age of eight, I remember thinking that I needed to eat less and watch everything I ate. By the time fourth grade rolled around I remember measuring out portion sizes. That's not being a kid."
Stoffel said she has heard nothing but favorable responses to the column, and looks forward to more writing opportunities during her internship.
"This has been such a great opportunity, better than I could've imagined."
-Sean Smith •