In August, the National Obesity Forum called for children to have their weight measured on their return to school in September. This will help ensure children lose any excessive post lockdown weight gain.
Almost ten million children in the UK, from Reception to Year 10, were off school for six months between March and September of this year due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
According to one survey, the average child in the UK gained almost half a stone during the lockdown period with over 11% of children gaining more than 10lbs since March.
Snacking outside of mealtimes, lack of exercise and using electronic devices for longer (particularly due to online lessons) during lockdown have all been major contributing factors in weight gain amongst children over the past six months.
More than half of the parents (62%) participating in the survey admitted that they are concerned about their child’s weight gain over lockdown.
“Schools have to do something about post lockdown weight gain”
Children from poorer households were more vulnerable to weight gain during lockdown.
The report found that families struggling financially were more likely to adopt ‘basic sustenance’ diets as providing meals became ‘a continual source of concern and worry’ for many families. The report also detailed:
“Many quickly cut calorie intake and reduced the quality of the food eaten – with far-reaching physical and emotional impact. Many children went without.”
The call from the National Obesity Forum comes after the suspension of the National Child Measurement Programme under which children’s weight is monitored in school. Weight checks take place in Reception and again in Year 6.
Whilst the programme will not resume until January, the National Obesity Forum has underlined that children’s weight must be monitored closely to avoid a further national increase in cases of childhood obesity.
Prior to lockdown, childhood obesity was already a major and growing problem in the UK.
In 2019, a report by the NHS, examining over a million 10 and 11 years olds nationally, revealed that 20.2% of children measured were obese with an additional 4.4% recorded as severely obese.
Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, warned:
“Schools have to do something about it. We have to measure them in September and again in spring to see if what has been creeping up during this enforced period of inactivity has been countered by being back at school.”
Public Response to weighing children post lockdown
The proposal by the National Obesity Forum was brought up for discussion during a segment on Channel 5’s The Jeremy Vine Show in August, causing a stir amongst many viewers on social media. One parent tweeted:
“My daughter is recovering from anorexia. It’s her first attempt at school soon after a lost year. Can’t tell you how disastrous this would be for her and others.”
National university magazine, The Tab, published a feature length piece in response the proposal, slamming the suggestion of classroom weigh-ins as ‘damaging’ and ‘unnecessary’ and arguing the potential to provoke eating disorders from a young age. One student wrote in:
“Calorie counting and weighing do not accurately work towards the goal of a healthy eating child – it teaches them that health equals a number, which it doesn’t.
“We’d be much better off implementing lessons at a young age through to the teenage years of nutrition and what healthy eating is.”
Single mum Nikki from Lancashire told Unsaid that parents should be capable of noticing when their own children have gained weight:
“I’m a parent and I would be more than happy to weigh my child. I’d like to think that I’d notice if my kid was getting fat and intervene, but clearly, people don’t or there wouldn’t be so many overweight kids.”
Whilst the proposal has faced backlash from the public, experts argue that children’s overall health post lockdown must be a priority.
Russell Viner, head of Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, warned:
“Everybody in the nutritional world is concerned. We talk endlessly about the risks of transmission of Covid, and that’s incredibly important, but it’s not the only thing.
“The risk-balance equation for children is about the risks of not being in school and poor mental health, poor sleep and potentially lack of exercise and obesity.”
Mary, a retired teacher from South Lanarkshire, told Unsaid that she agrees children’s physical and mental health should be a top priority post lockdown. She also believes that weighing children is an ineffective solution to a major problem:
“It’s true that there’s a national problem with childhood obesity – inevitably worsened by lockdown – but weigh-ins at school is not the right answer.
“Children should receive adequate exercise at P.E, taught about the importance of staying fit and encouraged to eat healthily. There’s good reason why children aren’t allowed to go to Weight Watchers.”
The increase in childhood cases of obesity in the UK is clearly a cause for concern but it appears that the proposal to weigh children in the classroom post lockdown may not be the most viable and appropriate solution.