Are we fighting child obesity in the right way?

A few days ago children in my daughter’s reception class were sent home with a letter from the NHS informing parents of upcoming height and weight checks for children in Primary Schools. The aim, apparently is to provide information to help build an understanding of national and local trends in child weight and to offer support to those families who may need it.

On reading the letter my initial thought was that weighing a 4-year-old wasn’t the best idea due to the way in which the data is collected. The measurements are based on the Body Mass Index (BMI), which research has shown isn’t the most effective guide. Some professional athletes have BMI’s which claim they are obese, when they clearly aren’t. I would love the research to include kids energy levels, performance in class and sleeping habits which could be linked to their eating habits. I was also anxious about young children becoming aware that their weight could be seen as an issue and the insecurities that this might create.

I brought this very topic up with some fellow parent bloggers who were kind enough to share their thoughts and personal experience with me. I wanted to keep this post as neutral as possible to get both sides.

Sarah from “I choose to allow my children to take part. Having worked for the NHS for many years I know that the information collated is used to gauge service needs so a vital resource. When explaining it to my children I told that it was just a way of lining up 100 children and the health team working out where they would stand in that line. Children are weighed and measured individually away from their peers and results are sent in a sealed envelope to parents. The letter will give them details of services they can access. So in my area we have a HENRY project which gets parents and children coming together to learn about nutrition and how to cook new recipes. As well as access to fitness activities.”

Christy from “I would allow it if it was done in a private and friendly setting, with the information being used for the NHS to gather data and also parents being informed privately of the results. I don’t think kids need to feel like they’re being compared and certainly should not be made to feel negative about the situation, but we do need to keep on top of this and as a parent I would like to know if there is a problem with my son health-wise and how to address it.”

Anna from “Ive always allowed mine. It’s easy for parents to miss if weight creeps up gradually and if there ever was an issue I’d want to know so I could tackle it with a few small changes before it became more of an issue.”

Laura from “My son took part last year. He didn’t mind at all but I did get a letter to say he was a little over what they’d like which I thought may be the case. Although some find it offensive as most of us know what we should and shouldn’t eat, I have had my eyes opened to other parents that really had no clue what food contained sugar etc so I don’t think it’s a bad thing, as long as any communication is via parents and not discussed with the children directly.”

Linda from “Didn’t affect me (my two are 8 and 9) but I wouldn’t have an issue with it were it not for the fact that BMI is (in my view) as dodgy as hell. You can have really healthy rugby players with BMIs over the ‘recommended’ level for example.”

Helen from “My daughter was weighed and we had a letter saying she was obese. She didn’t know because she didn’t see the letter and I didn’t tell her. I took her to the GP and she told me that my daughter was perfect and the main thing is to make sure she was active. My Y6 daughter is supposed to be weighed next week but I’ve opted out of it. She’s very conscious of her weight already and all the girls have been talking about it constantly so I don’t want her to have anything to worry about. She’s incredibly slim and a very fussy eater and acutely aware of body image. I think it’s damaging for children of her age.”

Lack of support

Claire from “We opt out now, my eldest son is classed as overweight, when he last got weighed he was so embarrassed in front of his class mates he came out very upset and all I got home was a letter telling me he was overweight, no help. We try hard at home to control his weight (diet and he comes to the gym with me) but I felt like the school gave me a letter and no help, I can understand if they were going to help us to help him with his food issues but they didn’t so now we opt out to protect our son from humiliation and seek help elsewhere. Plus he’s so short, I am certain when he sprouts up he will even out nicely with the steps we’ve put in place at home too.”

Becci from “Yes , I agreed to it and wish I hadn’t. It caused so much upset for the whole year as parents of perfectly healthy children were told they were overweight and parents of severely under weight children ( who had previously asked for help ) were given a pat on the back and told as the BMI was good there was no help that could be offered. It’s wrong !! I am all for cutting obesity but not by causing eating disorders in its place!”

Helped to diagnose an eating disorder

Miriam from “These checks practically saved my daughter’s life! I had been saying for years that she was a nightmare to feed and had such a restrictive diet. Despite being diagnosed with autism no-one took me serious until these weigh ins in school flagged that she was seriously UNDERWEIGHT. Now she has a diagnosis of an eating disorder and is receiving the help she needs to support her and us.
I am so so grateful the NHS does this!”

As you can see from reading these responses the topic is a very personal and difficult one. On one hand it can help to diagnose a potential eating disorder. It’s very difficult to get referred to a Dietitian which means eating disorders can go undetected, so if these tests open that path of diagnosis and communication then that’s great.

On the other hand there seems to be lots of cases where parents have been told that their kids are overweight but have been offered no help after this. In my experience most parents know when there is a problem with their kids eating habits or weight but have no idea how to educate themselves on nutrition or where to seek professional advice, especially when there is so much conflicting advice in the media regarding diet. Jamie Oliver has campaigned for years to get healthy school menus available at all schools, but so many schools are still offering unhealthy meals, yes you can opt out of school dinners, but many kids who are offered free school meals due to being from a low-income family don’t have this choice. Many sure start centres offer healthy eating classes for parents, but I would love to see these offered in schools where kids can get involved with their parents and more free sports and activities offered to kids. After school clubs can be great, but many parents can’t afford these, so I would like to see these offered across the board for low-income families too.



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