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Weighing children in school is counter-productive and dangerous

Following evidence revealing obese people are more likely to become seriously ill if they contract Covid-19, the National Obesity Forum has proposed schools should weigh pupils when they return to school in Autumn. Tam Fry, the chairman of the National Obesity Forum explained the reason for the weighing of students was to “catch every child who is piling on the pounds”.

This initiative works through the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) which measures the height and weight of children in reception class (aged 4 to 5) and year 6 (aged 10 to 11) and then calculates a Body Mass Index (BMI) centile in order to assess overweight levels in children within primary schools. Surely we as a country know BMIs are not an accurate nor universal indicator of health? There are so many more factors outside of weight which need to be taken into consideration, especially given the fact that these are children who are continuously growing. 

Former MP Martin Daubney argues in favour of the initiative, saying “we worry more about feelings over facts”. If, as Daubney argues, we should be worrying more about facts rather than considering mental health, then shouldn’t we be concerned at the rapidly rising numbers of eating disorders in children under 12? 

I am not dismissing the fact that health, especially in the current climate, should be highly prioritised. What I am saying is weighing children in school is counter-productive and dangerous. This initiative completely disregards both the physical and mental wellbeing of children and although some say it may reduce levels of obesity, it will most likely be at the expense of children’s welfare. This programme encourages children to fixate on their weight or appearance as well as to associate weight with health, which could trigger disordered eating. 

In my opinion, the only way this programme could have even the slightest chance at being effective is if the government simultaneously heavily invested in a mental health system for schools. Possibly, this system would end up handling the potentially damaging consequences of this programme.  

It is clear the government’s aim is to track those who have put on weight over lockdown, meaning their solution would be to shame those children into losing weight as they return to school. 

I would like to stress children are not responsible for childhood obesity – it is a systemic problem. Instead of creating an atmosphere of shame around weight and body image, schools should be presenting children with different ways of feeling strong and happy with themselves: make exercise fun, make nutrition fun, stop serving food of little nutritional value in the cafeteria. 

Many children are already in a state of anxiety due to lockdown measures, why are we adding this stress on top of that? This is the time when we need to support them the most, not permanently damage their mental health.

22/09/2020

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Lauren Bramwell