Riverside-Brookfield High School is considering offering a new class in fitness and nutrition, but school board members are concerned that it will be known as the “fat class” and that students in the class could be stigmatized.

The proposed class would be a one semester elective that would be part of the school’s physical education and health program.

“We have a lot of students who say that they are unhappy with their weight,” said Laura Drzonek, chair of RB’s Physical Education and Health Department.

Childhood obesity is a problem that is turning into an epidemic according to a rationale for the course presented to the school board. The rationale cites a study by the Center for Disease Control that says that 16 percent of the youth in the United States are considered obese.

Students with weight problems often have a negative body image which affects their self esteem and emotional health, according to Drzonek.

The class would focus on nutrition and teach students about healthy eating, eating disorders, and ingredients. It would also educate students about the need for regular exercise and teach them about the connection between nutrition and fitness.

At the beginning of the class, students would receive a personal fitness assessment which would result in a 15-page report on their health. Then students would be given a customized exercise program and nutritional recommendations based on their report.

The class would be offered during the fourth-hour lunch period, and students would have an option to eat in the classroom rather than in the cafeteria, where they might be tempted by unhealthy foods or teased for eating an orange and a salad while their classmates are wolfing down a burger and fries or nachos.

The rationale for the course says that while any student may enroll, guidance counselors or the school nurse may suggest the class to students. That suggestion set off alarm bells among nervous school board members, who worried that staff members should not get involved in such personal matters with students.

“We’re overstepping our boundaries,” worried school board member Bill McCloskey.

RB Principal/Superintendent Jack Baldermann acknowledged the class was a bold step.

“It’s out there; it’s risk taking,” said Baldermann. “I really think it’s a bold initiative that is student-centered.”

School board members were concerned about the ramifications of staff making suggestions to individual students that they should take the class. But Drzonek said that the school nurse should be involved, because obesity is a health issue and that counselors could appropriately suggest the class. She noted that sometimes students break down in tears talking to their guidance counselors about their weight and negative self-image.

The course might also appeal to athletes who are concerned about using nutrition to advance their fitness, and might also be of interest to students interested in gaining weight in a safe and healthy way.

School board members appeared more comfortable about the class if they could be assured that the class would be open to everyone and would serve a variety of students, not just those that were overweight.

The school board took no official action on the proposed course at its special Nov. 29 meeting, where the class was discussed.