'National child measurement programme is fat shaming children'

Calling kids ‘overweight’ is fat-shaming, experts say as they moan about same scheme which also called these skinny children FAT

  • A study found the National Child Measurement Programme is fat shaming kids
  • Researchers found it causes children anxiety and embarrassment at weight ins 

Labelling children as ‘overweight’ is fat shaming and can do more harm than good, a study suggests.

The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) causes children anxiety and embarrassment at weigh-ins and often leads to teasing, researchers found.

Instead of helping children to lose weight, it has the potential cause eating disorders and unhealthy dieting behaviours that are ‘far more dangerous than the weight itself’.

Regulating the food industry or extending free school meals would be more beneficial to tackle the root cause, experts suggest.

The NCMP measures the height and weight of children when they start primary school, age four or five, and again in year six, before they move to secondary school, age 11.

Nutritionist Aaron Nee slammed ‘moronic’ NHS BMI checks after his slim five-year-old son Jacob (left) was branded overweight, while Lauren Ormesher was furious after receiving a letter which said her four-year-old daughter Maggie (right) was ‘overweight’

Their Body Mass Index (BMI) is calculated with results issued to parents to advise whether their child has been categorised as ‘underweight’, a ‘healthy weight’, ‘overweight’ or ‘very overweight’.

It provides key data on national childhood obesity levels, with one in 10 now obese when they start primary school, rising to almost one in four by the time they leave for secondary school.

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In the first study of its kind, researchers from the Queen Mary University of London wanted to assess the impact the programme had on children judged to be overweight.

They analysed feedback given by parents who were offered advice and support on achieving a healthy weight for their child, after they were categorised as either overweight or very overweight.

Analysis showed that these families expressed significant concerns about the potential for harmful effects on their child’s mental health, with many saying it marked a turning point in the child’s awareness of body weight – altering their relationship with food.

Children reported feeling anxiety and embarrassment about the weighing process, the result, and the potential for weight-related teasing, according to the findings published in Journal of Critical Public Health.

Parents expressed concern that the potential for mental health disorders, eating disorders and unhealthy dieting behaviours in the future was ‘far more dangerous than the weight itself.’

They often cited the child’s happiness as their priority, with many admitting they ignored the findings.

Researchers found being encouraged to lose weight, teasing, and weight-related criticism did impact on children’s self-perceptions and increased dieting and dysfunctional eating behaviours.

Dr Meredith Hawking, of Queen Mary University of London, said: ‘Many parents have legitimate concerns about the impact the National Child Measurement Programme might have on children’s self-perception and food practices as they grow older.

‘More research is needed to understand whether these concerns are borne out in the long term and to find ways to mitigate them if the programme is to continue.’

Jemma Fletcher criticised health bosses after receiving a letter which labelled her five-year-old daughter Lily (left) overweight last year and in 2018, Ariel Marsden was ‘horrified’ when her four-year-old daughter Belle (left) was also branded overweight

She suggested ministers must act on the data provided by the NCMP and come up with new ways to address childhood obesity, which is particularly prevalent among poorer communities.

She added: ‘Without meaningful regulation of the food industry or measures to address poverty, parents will be unsupported in their efforts to help children live healthier lives.’

But Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said it was vital children’s weight was measured to flag up potential health issues in future.

He said the programme was not intended to be a weight management programme for children to receive expert medical help, but instead a statistical exercise to provide information on a rising problem.

He said: ‘The current national child measurement programme doesn’t go far enough. We should be measuring children annually in school for medical reasons, which was recommended in 2004 by the Commons Health Select Committee.

‘Now, 18yrs on, thousands of children and their parents are still suffering with no sign of child obesity rates getting any better. It’s a national disgrace.’

It comes after a nutritionist last year slammed ‘moronic’ NHS BMI checks after his slim five-year-old son was branded overweight.

Aaron Nee, from East Sussex, said his son Jacob, who ‘hardly has an ounce of fat on him’, came home with a letter urging his parents to ‘make healthy changes’.

Other parents have shared similar concerns. 

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