‘Fat letters’ – sent from schools to warn parents that their children are overweight – should be changed or scrapped entirely, according to the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH).
The warning comes after the RSPH surveyed 678 parents with children below the age of 18, discovering that just one in five parents found the letters about their children’s weight useful.
One parent that received a letter told Sky News he felt “accused of being a bad parent” and that he was left feeling “frustrated and angry,” while GP Dr Monah Mansoori warned of the potential psychological damage such a letter could have on parents and children alike.
This happened to one child who “disliked himself” and became “conscious of his weight” ever since opening the letter, according to his grandmother who spoke with ITV.
The controversial letters are sent as part of the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP), which checks the height and weight of kids as they enter primary school and again when they leave. Obesity is then classified based on the child’s body mass index, a system that also has its critics.
The latest NCMP figures show that 9.5 percent of children enter reception class classified as obese, with that figure doubling to 18.9 percent by the time they leave at the age of ten or 11 years old.
Chief Executive of the RSPH, Shirley Cramer said the programme is great for collecting data but that it was “unacceptable that one in five children leave primary school classed as obese.”
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We must all pull together to reverse this worrying trend,” Cramer said. “There was a £200 million cut to public health last year. We are worried about the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review this month because we already know there will be cuts to local authority budgets. One third of our children are overweight and if we don’t do something about that we really are going to bankrupt the NHS.
The health service spends £4 billion a year on obesity related medical conditions. Despite this, Fit for Sport, which delivers sports programmes to 250,000 children, has reported that local authorities are increasingly cancelling after school clubs and holiday camps.
This has created a situation where schools are telling parents that their children are overweight, while also informing them that state-supported activity clubs are no longer available. At the moment the NHS provides the Change4Life scheme, which helps parents keep themselves and their children healthy with advice and activities.
A similar, independent programme in Bedfordshire helped Sara Gudgeon after she received a ‘fat letter.’
“The letter took myself and my three children on a different path,” Mrs Gudgeon said. “We attended a support service called BeeZee Bodies which helped us with cooking and fitness and it transformed us.”
This positive experience is encouraging but all too rare.
It illustrates how beneficial a robust support system could potentially be in lowering obesity, while its uncommonness points to a need for massive reform if widescale change is to be achieved.
Recommendations from the RSPH tell the government to further integrate these types of initiatives, increase education about better diets, and increase the amount of exercise young children do while inside the school gates.
All indications so far, however, point towards Chancellor George Osborne making further cuts, specifically to local government. So the chances of new activity centres and increased obesity support may be fairly slim.
Nevertheless, it wont cost much to change the current format of so called ‘fat letters,’ which are ostracising parents and harming the self-confidence of children.
The hope is that they can move to be more supportive and offer suggestions about improving health, without being accusatory. The fear, though, is that more and more schools won’t have the money to offer the clubs and holiday activities they are recommending.
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