Remember getting checked for scoliosis, lice at school? Doctors explain why these health check-ins have since gone away

·4-min read
A woman examines the back of an East High School girl for scoliosis, Madison, Wisconsin, February 12, 1935. (Photo by Angus B. McVicar/Wisconsin Historical Society/Getty Images)
Doctors say there are a few factors behind the overall phase-out of health checks, like scoliosis screenings, at school. (Photo by Angus B. McVicar/Wisconsin Historical Society/Getty Images)

Chrissy Teigen shared a random school memory on Twitter Wednesday night, and it got plenty of people talking.

"Omg I just casually mentioned I was checked for scoliosis all throughout elementary school where we removed our shirts and bent over and no one at my dinner knows what I'm talking about," she wrote."Was I the only one!? Oh god was I the only one." (Scoliosis, in case you're not familiar with it, is a sideways curve of the spine, per the Mayo Clinic.)

The tweet quickly went viral, with people chiming in with their own memories of perfunctory school health checks. 

"This was a horrible and humiliating thing I thought was a part of childhood," one person wrote. "Our scoliosis checks happened in the gym with everyone in your entire class watching. Why was this ok?" Another said they also underwent scoliosis checks, noting that they "don’t remember the boys having to do it, that's one of the reasons the girls were so upset we did."

"I was told I had mild scoliosis at one of those and then nobody ever talked about it/checked me for it again and I've had anxiety about it ever since," someone else wrote.

But people also mentioned other health checks they were put through at school. "We were checked for scoliosis, color blindness and lice!" one person said. "I used to love being checked [for] lice because they would comb through scalp with toothpicks and it felt good/tickled."

"Also got checked for lice in front of the entire class. 4th grade. Teacher would write the names of the kids with lice in big letters on the chalkboard. Felt so bad for those kids," someone shared.

Given how common these school health check-ins used to be, they've since fallen by the wayside. What happened to them? There are a few factors behind the overall phase-out of these health checks at school, Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. 

"These were once done at schools because children didn't go to the doctor as regularly as they do now," he says. "Now, because kids are going so regularly and frequently, a lot of these screenings are referred back to pediatricians." However, Ganjian says, some of these checks are still done in low-income areas where there is concern about children's access to good pediatric care. 

Budget cuts are also a factor in scaling back these in-school health checks, Ganjian says. "There have been a lot of budget cuts and many schools don't have registered nurses that are able to do these checks," he says. "You have to be trained to do them."

The way that scoliosis checks needed to be done in schools is also a little eyebrow-raising now, Dr. Gina Posner, a board-certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. "Schools had kids taking off their shirts and that's probably not allowed at this point," she says. 

There were concerns, too, that kids were being over-screened, Ganjian says. "Many of these checks turned out to be overkill," he says, noting that children who may have otherwise been monitored by their doctor to see if their scoliosis got worse were undergoing scans to check their backs and being unnecessarily exposed to radiation. 

As for lice checks, Ganjian says that schools may still do them when they experience outbreaks but, in general, parents monitor for these. "A lot of times, parents are so well-informed that they know what to look for," he says. "There are also good over-the-counter medications to treat it and a pediatrician may not even need to be involved."

Ganjian says it's good that most children are now being screened for things like scoliosis, color blindness, and good vision at their pediatrician's office. "It's better that these are done by a pediatrician," he says. "Even if they find something abnormal, they can tell if it's borderline or more important and make recommendations from there."

But, taking shirts off in school aside, having health checks done in school isn't necessarily a bad thing, Posner says. "Kids are always referred to the doctor to confirm that there is an issue," she says. "It makes the parents get a little push to go to the doctor for a well check if they weren't already and can sometimes catch kids who haven't been to the doctor's office for years."

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