Why weighing our children in schools is the worst idea….ever.


I wrote a post recently on a community Facebook page about the National Child Measurement Programme that started in 2005.  

Children are routinely weighed and measured in reception and year 6 and letters are then sent home advising parents whether their children are overweight. If they are, the programme suggests measures like exercise clubs and lifestyle changes to ‘fix’ the ‘problem’…..

The responses to my conversation starter really highlighted for me the huge range of opinion present in our society. Many women messaged me to say that they were weighed in school, told they were the heaviest in their class for example, and found it extremely traumatising. It started off a cycle of dieting and bingeing and a relationship where they were not happy with their bodies. These women can still recall how they felt, even now as adults. This stuff stays with you and can shape the rest of your life.

When you are told as a child you are ‘fat’, and judged on this basis, you internalise it.  

Let’s face it, being told this is not a compliment in our society. This comes with a whole layer of extra emotional baggage, disapproval, not being good enough, must try harder to be ‘normal’.  I doubt that these days children would be weighed and told the results in front of friends at school, but the fact still remains that we make an issue of a child’s weight and there will be negative sequelae as a result.

I’ve had other people respond saying there is nothing wrong with weighing children in school, it gives us information on where we are in terms of statistics, we identify the problem and offer solutions.  But for me, there’s more to it. This is not a problem needing to be fixed, or at least not in this way. 

I get that we don’t want to ‘promote obesity’ (we are scared of obesity) but there is a difference between accepting a child (or adult for that matter) as they are and promoting obesity. Shaming people for their size does not help influence positive health behaviours. If we start shaming kids about their weight early on, all we do is set them up for a lifetime of feeling bad about their body. They’ll start trying to lose weight, or their family will start adopting rules around calories and exercise and this will mess them up.

Trying to lose weight doesn’t work, it causes disordered eating and, obesity.

Yes, you read that correctly. 

A few weeks ago I considered applying for an NHS job that I saw advertised on helping families with ‘overweight’ children get healthy, it sounded like the potential for an amazing project, but I couldn’t because when I read the job specification, I saw the approach they wanted......same old, same old. 

How I would approach this is WAY different to our flawed NHS system.....

If it were up to me this is what I would do: 

1.    Treat the child as an individual and look at their circumstances rather than a one size fits all approach. 

2.    Take the focus off weight and weight loss

3.    Look at the child’s eating behaviour. Are they overeating? Undereating? Bingeing? Why? What is driving the behaviour? Are there emotional (or other) causes for this? WE need to look at the WHY, as prescriptive plans will not address this. 

4.    Help children understand that all food is allowed, so they don’t feel guilty for eating non-nutritious food.

5.    Don’t make children feel bad about themselves for their bodies

6.    Build self esteem

7.    Help kids understand that moving our bodies is FUN and makes us feel good

8.    Help kids learn how to cook, how to eat a generally balanced diet where food is food and has no moral imperative…

9.    Look at what is happening within families. Is there diet talk going on? Are there mixed messages around food? Are siblings being treated differently because of their size/weight? 

10.  Build an acceptance of Body Diversity in homes, schools and society

If you try and put aside your core beliefs for a second, (fat equals unhealthy) (‘obesity epidemic’) (‘all it takes is less food and more exercise’) (‘it’s the individual’s fault’) can you see that what I’m saying makes sense? 

Think of it this way, has the focus on child obesity and weight loss solved the ‘obesity epidemic’ so far?!

Isn’t it time for something that looks at the whole person? 

Something based on compassion and understanding, rather than blame? x

Let me know your thoughts...

I work with women and their families, to help them improve their relationship with food and themselves. My philosophy is based on a non-diet, health at every size approach. 

My mission is to help women stop dieting because I know they don't work long term and actually make you fatter than when you started!!

I do this by providing Mindful Eating and Body Image coaching either 121 or in groups.  

I offer Bristol based workshops and 1-2-1 coaching in person in Bristol (and anywhere else across the globe, via Zoom) 

Let me know if you would like to join my next group of workshops that start on 6th September 2018....or if you'd like some 121 coaching.