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Plans for regular weigh-ins for primary school children are concerning, says the DECP

25 June 2021

There are concerns that plans to return to regular weigh-ins for children could lead to shame and stigma for children and place the focus solely on weight rather than health.

The National Child Measurement Programme was paused in March last year due to the pandemic, and primary school-aged children are to be measured as the new school year starts in September amid fears the pandemic has sparked an obesity crisis

Dr Dan O’Hare, co-chair of the Division of Educational and Child Psychology (DECP), said:

“We are concerned about the news that there are plans to return to regular weigh-ins for primary school children. While we recognise the very real need to ensure children are healthy and tackle obesity, there are concerns about using the blunt instrument of weighing a child to determine this. 

“Understanding weight and obesity is complex and we must look at the interaction between psychology, environmental, social and biological factors which all play their part. We have reservations about how this practice could lead to increased stigma amongst children and their families. As explained in the Division of Occupational Psychology’s paper, ‘Psychological perspectives on obesity’, shame does not motivate people or help them to make sustainable changes to their lives. Weight stigma perpetuates a cycle of shame and weight gain at all levels of obesity.

“By weighing children there is a danger we put a negative focus on body image at an incredibly young and impressionable age, which could lead to unhealthy relationships with food and body image throughout their life - the Women and Equalities committee has already raised such concerns.”

Dr Melernie Meheux, co-chair of the DECP, added:

“Currently, there is also very little information about how this initiative will take in to account and correct the racial biases inherent in the measurement and calculation of BMI. 

“The current initiative risks a focus on weight, rather than health. Rather than looking solely at weighing children as a means to tackle obesity, we should be focusing on initiatives and policies which ensure all children and families can afford good quality nutritious food, and the support is there for families and children who require school meals and extra guidance on a healthy lifestyle. 

“It is vitally important that play and physical activity is encouraged and prioritised within the school day. All children need to be able to access safe places to play and take part in physical activity both inside and outside of the school setting.”

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