Government accused of fat shaming children as school weigh-ins to return

School weigh-ins

Primary school-aged children are to be measured as the new school year starts in September (Picture: Getty)

The government has been accused of ‘fat shaming’ children over plans to re-introduce school weigh-ins.

Primary school-aged children are to be measured as the new school year starts in September amid fears the pandemic has sparked an obesity crisis.

Experts fear that homeschooling, less regular exercise and easier access to snacks over lockdown may have caused children to gain significant amounts of weight.

However, a lack of data means there is no way of knowing if there is a problem or the extent of it if it does exist.

Pupils were due to be weighed as part of the National Child Measurement Programme [NCMP] last year but it was paused in March 2020 when the nation went into lockdown.

Tam Fry, the chair of the National Obesity Forum, said he was ‘delighted’ the NCMP was returning and called for ministers to increase the frequency of weigh-ins to once a year.

‘We expect the figures will have gone up and we expect the results, when we get them, to be a real jolt to Boris Johnson,’ he told the Independent.

‘We have got to do something very serious about this problem. We cannot wait to the end of Covid.’

Results of the weigh-ins will be sent to parents to let them know if their child or children is at risk of developing a weight problem.

Russell Viner, a past president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said the programme was ‘hugely important’ to understand the impact of the pandemic on obesity amid an absence of data.

Eating disorder services at breaking point Picture: hopevirgo_

Eating disorder campaigner Hope Virgo has criticised the plans (Picture: hopevirgo_)

But parents and eating disorder campaigners have warned the proposals will do more harm than good, negatively impacting self-esteem and risking a rise in bullying.

Hope Virgo, who has been fighting to improve eating disorder services and scrap BMI measurements, told ‘This is another ridiculous and dangerous initiative which will do more harm than good.

‘Eating disorders are extremely complicated mental illnesses but a scheme like this has the potential to trigger one.

‘Over Covid-19 we have seen more people struggling with eating disorders and cases now at an all time high.

‘This initiative will cause shame, guilt and scare monger children all over the country. Not only this, but the potential for bullying is high.

‘Weight and BMI are not a measure of health and instead we should be spending time supporting young people to get back on their feet after what has been a terrible year for so many.’

Even before the pandemic the UK had some of the highest rates of overweight children in western Europe. Around one in three children leaving primary school in England were overweight, while one in five were classified as obese.

However, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are also on the rise with a recent investigation revealing how services are at ‘breaking point’ amid a lack of hospital beds and a two-year wait for treatment.

Mum Suzanne Samaka, who is campaigning to change social media laws, said lockdown has made young people more exposed than ever to online content that will have affected their self-esteem.

She started a petition calling for edited posts to be labelled in the same way that sponsored ones must be hashtagged ‘#ad’, after a close family member developed and eating disorder.

Commenting on the weigh-ins she said: ‘I think this is a horrific idea. The pandemic has been a time filled with anxiety and worry for young children and this will only add to their fears and concerns. Also they have spent more time than ever online, seeing content that is affecting their body image and self-esteem.’

The government has already come under fire for plans to force restaurants to put calories on menus in a bid to tackle obesity, which campaigners say could be triggering for people with eating disorders.

The latest plans to tackle obesity in children have been ridiculed by many online, with some people sharing their own painful memories of being weighed at school.

One person recalled getting a letter sent home describing her as ‘morbidly obese’.

Really? REALLY? Children had their lives uprooted as a result of this pandemic- who will benefit from introducing school weigh-ins? Because it certainly won’t be the children. They have had enough to worry about, without feeling that their body changing is a problem.

— Erin Rose Puttock (@EriRoseP) June 21, 2021

If this is to be introduced in schools, it’s absolutely imperative that every teacher or staff member involved in facilitating weigh-ins has full training in the perils of eating disorders, on weight stigma, & on how to safely communicate to child & parents.

— Wednesday’s Child (@wearewednesdays) June 21, 2021

She tweeted: ‘This phrase has stayed with me my entire life, and now at the age of 20, I still struggle with horrible body image issues and disordered eating habits.’

Another person said: ‘Being weighed in school was what directly led to my eating disorder that i’m still struggling with 10 years later, this is a terrible idea.’

A third person said: ‘I still remember the trauma of this over 20 years ago… I comforted myself with food for many years. Good job @BorisJohnson@Conservatives.

‘Why not teach about mental health & food. The importance of diet, teach a varied exercise routine than competitive sports?’

A fourth said: ‘This, along with government proposals to include calories on menus, is going to be incredibly damaging to young children. It was weigh ins at school which contributed to my eating disorder. Instead government should focus on educating about food, and making healthy food cheaper.’

Labour called on the government to ensure the programme was backed by the ‘public health resources needed to tackle obesity’.

Shadow public health minister Alex Norris said: ‘We can’t just shame children and their parents into losing weight after a difficult 18 months – schools and families must be given the help needed if we’re to see any real improvement in the obesity crisis.’

The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

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