Saturday, 24 September 2016

Why my Son Won't be Participating in the NHS Child Measurement Programme

Like all parents in England, when my child started school, it wasn't long before we received a letter informing us that he would be weighed and measured, as part of the National Child Measurement Programme. This was, apparently, in order for the NHS to build an accurate picture of the heights and weights of UK children. Fair enough, I thought. That sounds like a worthwhile exercise to get behind. So I didn't object, and thought nothing more of it, until, out of the blue, I received a letter informing me that my son, who had dressed himself for school that morning in clothes aged 4-5, was in fact, overweight. The 4-5 year old trousers were actually pretty huge and I had to draw the waistband right in.

My first thought was; what on earth did they feed him for lunch??!! I wasn't concerned for his health, or worried that I was doing something wrong. As he wasn't my first child, I realised straight away that it was total rubbish and didn't give it another thought in that respect. I did start to feel angry though. How dare these people clumsily throw around such emotive and destructive labels so readily? OK, the letter came to me and not him, but what if I had been a first-time mum, unsure and self-conscious, this could cause a lot of anxiety, that is bound to be transferred onto the child. What if the child becomes aware of the issue, and it causes them deep distress and worry, as documented in this guest post Weighing Children in School? I asked around, and it turned out, in a class of what looked like average children, many parents had received this letter. So how does this happen? The staff who perform these checks rely on one measure to assess weight, the Body Mass Index. This is a measure commonly used for weight assessment in adults, but it's widely regarded as a flawed system, because it is the result of dividing the weight (in kgs) with the height, squared. It's very mathematical, but it does not take into account muscle mass versus body fat. Muscle is denser than fat, so a weightlifter, weighing 200lbs,  would have the same BMI as a couch potato with the same weight. From a common sense parent point of view, it also fails to take into account puppy fat. Both my children, and presumably others too, would bulk up when they were about to have a growth spurt, so they would go from slightly tubby to taller and leaner in a few weeks. If you catch them on the wrong day, they may well fall the wrong side of the magic number, but that doesn't mean they have a weight 'problem', because most of the time, they will probably be doing things like this...

Small boy jumping a hurdle at Sports Day

This is the same boy who was labelled 'overweight'. What do you think?  As I said in the beginning, I'm not actually against them weighing the children as such, although, I think it's inadvisable, particularly with Year 6. Just as they begin to approach puberty and become aware of their own bodies, and the media and image, etc, etc, someone comes along and makes them stand on a set of scales, whilst recording what they see. Genius. They are not meant to read the result, but they probably will have a good try, who wouldn't? As far as they are concerned, someone has just walked into their school and passed judgement on the size of their bodies. Not cool. I don't care what anybody says to the contrary, I would be very surprised if those young people aren't left wondering how they compared to their friends. However, the bigger issue is the labelling and total lack of common sense around such a sensitive subject. There is a world of difference between a child who doesn't have the right dimensions on paper, and a child who needs help controlling their weight. I realise it's important to tackle these issues before they become a bigger problem, but not before they are even an issue, or you could be creating a whole different set of issues, by messing with the minds of parents, and children, who just want to be considered normal. I asked around for other parent's thoughts on NCMS and within about five minutes, I received all these comments... 

 I got told my daughter was obese. She's not and I think it's unnecessary and inappropriate for most children and I know for a fact if they tell my daughter the same thing now it will have a negative impact on her self esteem as she heads towards her teenage years. - Tracey, from One Frazzled Mum

 I was livid they made my son take part when I didn't want him to. I know parents that have had eating disorders triggered with their kids after being told they were 'overweight' when in truth they were all perfectly healthy children. BMI is a load of rubbish & to put that kind of pressure over weight on such young children is the exact opposite of healthy. Claire, from Big Family, Big Fun

I didn't know it had happened until we received the letter to say my 4 year old was very overweight. He's always been 98/99th centile since birth. I don't expect that to change. I freaked out and started changing the way I gave him treats but soon realised I didn't need to fuss. He was never told by the school or us what the measurements were or what they meant in terms of BMI. It's an outdated and unreliable system to use anyway so don't know why they bother to be honest. Steph, from Mental Parentals

There is another side to the coin though, as pointed out by Eilidh, from Mummy and Monkeys ...

It's hard to know what's for the best. I've worked in a school where it meant they had more evidence for neglect of a child that was never taken anywhere to get weighed or seen by anyone, I can see why there is a need for it. 

And I agree, there is a need for some kind of monitoring to protect children and help them maintain good health, but does it need to be this clinical, mathematical, judgemental system? Surely a little common sense would go a long way. Does the child look overweight? Are they struggling to fit into their clothes, do they find P.E. difficult? Of course, try to find ways to discreetly help them, but that child will already know they are bigger than their friends and they are the only ones who are truly going to benefit from any scheme to do with weight, so don't make it any worse by shining a great big light on it. Let children be children and concentrate on fixing things that are actually broken, before anymore young people are forced to consider their body image and where they fit into society's norms before they have even left primary school. 

Small boy with giant ice cream


1 comment

  1. When I am Prime Minister you will be my Education Minister, OK?


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