As reported a few weeks back, the government will start issuing letters to the parents of schoolchildren who are classed as obese. But – in a classic case of softness – the government has banned the word ‘obese’, and will instead be classed as “very overweight”.
The Department of Health has been under fire for having a “prissy” approach to dealing with obesity. The department claims research had shown that the term was a turn-off, so will use the new term to describe a child with a BMI of 30 or more, in an attempt to enlist a parent’s support.
Primary care trusts (PCTs) have been sent a detailed set of instructions, including a sample letter, explaining how to convey to parents the results of the National Child Measurement Programme.
Ridiculously the forbidden words include “exercise”. Will Cavendish, director of health and wellbeing claims this conveys a negative image of the child to the parent. The term “physically active” is preferred.
“We haven’t banned the use of the word obese, we just haven’t used it,” he said defending the decision. “The word just shuts people down. This is not an academic exercise - there’s no point in giving parents a letter than doesn’t have an impact.”
Tam Fry of the Child Growth Foundation believes that the decision was “prissy” and “namby-pamby”. He added, “I find this particular line from the Government tiptoeing through the daffodils,” he said.
“The Americans have gone back to using the term because it’s the kind of shock word that makes parents sit up and take notice. It’s a nasty word but, by God, it should sound alarm bells in parents’ minds.”
Parents are to receive the letter, regardless of the child’s weight, telling them that their child is either; underweight, healthy weight, overweight, and very overweight. Parents will also be told that if they need any advice that they should contact their local GP. Children will not get the results for fear of being stigmatised by other children.
What the government has failed to take into account is that children have eyes, and a little piece of paper will not change their opinion on who are the overweight children in the school.
Ivan Lewis, the Health Minister, said: “It’s clear from research that we’ve done that parents want to know their child’s results and whether there is concern about their health.
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“But they want clear information which is helpful and nonstigmatising.
“Today we’ve published guidance which will help PCTs deliver this programme and help to make sure parents get the information they need about their child’s results in ways that they have said will be most helpful.
“Research shows that most parents of overweight or obese children think that their child is a healthy weight.
“This important move isn’t about pointing the finger and telling parents that their children are overweight. Instead it’s about equipping parents with the information they need to help their children live healthier lives.”
Mr Fry said that the Department of Health’s decision not to tell parents the exact BMI of their child was “rubbish”.
“Although the department recognises that there is no better way of calculating healthy/unhealthy weight other than using BMI, and mistakenly states that BMI growth charts can be found in the child’s personal child health records, it states that ‘some parents might find BMI charts confusing’.
“The Department of Health’s solution? Not to give anyone a BMI figure for their children in either reception year or Year 6. This flies in the face of the department’s policy recognising that parents are the principal care givers, yet denies them knowledge.”
The Conservatives have warned that the lack of school nurses could damage the success of the programme.
Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said: “If we are to avoid stigmatising children after being weighed then there needs to be sympathetic follow-up care but Labour have failed to address the chronic shortage of school nurses.
Sandra Gidley, the Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman, said: “The Government is clearly pussy-footing around this issue. Unless these letters are accompanied by practical help, then they will be a waste of time and resources.”