Every year more than 1 million children are weighed and measured at school as part of the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP).
The exercise – one of the biggest programmes of its kind in the world – provides England with a record of just how many children are overweight and obese.
Currently, over one in five reception year children (22.4 per cent) and over one in three Year 6 pupils (34.3 per cent) are overweight or obese.
But it is more than just a simple data collection exercise.
It also provides a valuable opportunity to engage children, schools, parents and other partners in tackling health inequalities. Since councils took on responsibility for the programme in 2013, many have been doing just that – as this report documents clearly but falls short in taking regard for the unintended consequences that all national public health initiatives often fail to consider when designing programmes directed at the general population.
At First Steps ED we have seen an increase in the numbers of schools and parents asking us to help 11 year old girls and boys (and younger) with one-to-one peer support, where we work with the young person and provide support to Mum and Dad to help those who have adopted disordered eating to relearn and re-educate them to adopt a healthy relationship with food.
‘’Mum informed us that all the Year 6 pupils were weighed at school and her daughter has been sent a letter home by the school saying that she is overweight, this has had a negative impact on her eating, and has made family meal times a frustrating experience for the whole family’’.
We work closely with schools, and on average support over 1,500 primary and secondary school students each year to educate them on body image, peer pressure and to spot the signs of disordered eating but we think more should be done by Local Education Authorities and Academy Trusts to educate school teachers and school nurses on how to ‘’spot the signs’’, for any child or young person who may require a different response to their weight.
First Steps ED staff work with children as young as 8 years old but due to increases in requests for assistance from parents with girls as young as 3 and 4 years old we are currently reviewing how to adjust our support services for these younger age groups.
Today we provide support to 7 (5-10 year olds) 5 girls and 2 boys.
Today we also provide support to 12 (11 year olds) 6 boys and 6 girls, the increase in the number of boys being referred come from social service professionals who suspect Autism as a cause for difficulties with food and eating.
‘’Help – my 4 year old daughter refuses to eat certain foods, after being told in nursery that not all food is good for you.
She is refusing meals prepared for the family, saying that she doesn’t want to eat something that will make her put on weight and this is starting to cause arguments at the family dinner table.
Our GP says it’s just a phase and it will pass, but she’s only 4 year’s old and its distressing to see her take this approach so early in her development – Please Help’’.
More research and training for multi-agency professionals is needed if ”well intended” national public health programmes are not to impact the health and wellbeing of at risk children and young people.
Obesity and healthy weight is of course important, preventing disordered eating and eating disorders is equally important and we want statutory health and local government partners to do more to work with the third sector and schools to tackle the growing number of children and young people impacted.
If you work with and support children and young people in any professional setting and would like to learn more about eating disorders, we deliver CPD training and have tailored these CPD events to meet the requirements of different professional sectors.