Every year school children take part in a national weigh-in programme, where their results (including weight, height and BMI) are entered anonymously into a database. The children who are overweight or obese bring a letter to their parents outlining the risks of obesity.
This year the wording in those letters has changed. This is because feedback from experts and parents suggested that the wording was too strong and off-putting, which in turn led to it not being taken seriously by the parents. One of the changes in the letter has been to remove sentences that state that obese children could get diabetes and some types of cancer, as well as a sentence stating that the parents may be surprised that their child’s weight classifies them as overweight.
The programme, which goes by the name The National Child Measurement Programme, is run by Public Health England. The purpose of the programme is to monitor the development of childhood obesity on a population level in the UK, and to increase awareness of the risks related to childhood obesity among parents.
Given recent headlines, such as the latest study from Imperial College London that found that there was a fourfold increase of children being hospitalised due to obesity-related illnesses, there is no denying that there is a need for a programme to tackle childhood obesity.
Childhood obesity on a large scale is a fairly recent phenomenon, and there is insufficient longitudinal research to state what long-term effects early obesity has on a person’s health. However, we already know what risks are associated with adult obesity and these are not to be taken lightly.
On the other hand, we also know that obesity in general is a complex issue and that interventions need to target multiple levels. As such, we can understand why the letters may seem patronizing and judgemental. Perhaps, rather than discussing how the letters should be phrased, it would be more constructive to suggest how parents could tackle their child’s obesity, for instance via a healthy diet and regular exercise.
You can read more about the National Child Measurement Programme here.