Health

Call for overhaul of child 'fat letters'

weighing scales Image copyright SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

The "fat letters" posted to parents in England to tell them if their child is overweight are crude and unhelpful and need an overhaul, say health experts.

The Royal Society for Public Health says only half of parents understand why their children are being weighed and few find the information in the letter useful.

It says parents need more support to help tackle child obesity.

Currently, a fifth of UK children leaving primary school are obese.

And one in 10 children in Reception classes - the start of primary school - is obese.

The National Child Measurement Programme, which was launched in England in 2005, checks the height and weight of children as they join and leave primary school, to track their progress and provide important data for the population.

There is no direct equivalent of the scheme in Scotland or Northern Ireland, but Wales has had a similar Child Measurement Programme since 2011.

A poll of 678 parents by the RSPH suggests many are unaware of the scheme and what the results it yields mean.

Shirley Cramer, RSPH chief executive, said: "Our research finds that only one-fifth of parents find the 'fat letter' useful, and we believe that the letter should be seen as the beginning of a dialogue with parents, not simply flagging whether their child is obese."

The RSPH wants:

  • parents of children who are obese to be contacted by telephone prior to being sent the letter
  • support in the form of either healthy food vouchers or access to after-school activity clubs to incentivise healthier eating and exercise habits for those children who are overweight
  • better integration of the Child Measurement Programme with other public health initiatives, such as Change4Life

Some local authorities do offer supplementary advice along with the letter, but many do not.

A spokeswoman for Public Health England said it provided guidance to local authorities but that ultimately it was "up to them" how they communicated the information to parents.

"We provide local authorities with extensive guidance on how to do this sensitively and also where parents can find additional support," she said.

"The letter to parents is not a 'fat letter', as we encourage it to be sent to all parents regardless of their child's weight.

"It is difficult for any parent to receive information that suggests their child has excess weight, so we take great care to ensure this is done as sensitively as possible."

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