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Parents fear weight monitoring leads to eating disorders

Are parents right to be worried about the weight monitoring of their children? Eating disorders are responsible for the highest number of deaths from psychiatric illness. The Eating Disorders Association estimates that about 165,000 people in the UK have eating disorders, with 10% dying as a result, but experts believe it could be higher. Most sufferers are women, but 1 in 10 are now men. So maybe there is a need?

As eating disorders and obesity become an increasing problem in western society, it is a positive sign that the government is attempting to learn more about its origins and treatment. In order to gain a better understanding of weight issues and obesity in young people, the government started the National Child Measurement Programme in 2005 to calculate the true scale of the problem in children, up to the age of 11. This study, when it first began, appeared to be a reflection of how seriously the government was taking the ever-growing problem and on the whole, it appeared to have been a success. However, it was reported in the Guardian that an official document commissioned by the Department of Health disclosed that many parents have been upset at not only how the scheme was conducted, but whether it should have taken place at all.

Too much focus on weight issues

Targeting children in reception class (aged 4 to 5) and year 6 (aged 10 to 11), the programme was originally intended to simply collect data, but it has gradually become more of a screening exercise, with most health bodies writing to parents about their children’s results and in some cases, referring them for weight-loss treatment.

The main issue that parents identify is the way in which the measurements have been reported back to the families. Some parents feel quite strongly that to be branded 'obese' at the age of 11 is too early, while a child is still physically growing and maturing. Both mothers and fathers have stated that being branded obese puts their sons or daughters at greater risk of becoming anorexic or bulimic. This is an age when the pressures from peer groups to conform (especially girls as they reach puberty and are more aware of their body image) is especially intense, and a child could be propelled into feeling 'abnormal' because of the way they look. It could lead to too much focus on weight issues by the child and the parents.

It was also reported that the parents who were most angry about the findings were those with children on the border of being classed as overweight or obese. To avoid upsetting families, many schools have changed the Department of Health letter sent out following the tests to remove the term 'obese' or references to pupils being at higher risk of developing diabetes or cancer.

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