Health experts have criticised the ‘fat letters’ that are issued to the parents of overweight children saying that they’re crude and unhelpful and that their place needs to reviewed.
An investigation by the Royal Society for Public Health found that only half of all parents that had received the letter understood why their children were being weighed during the health check and only one-fifth of parents found the information in the letter of any use. The investigation concluded that more clear concise information needs to be given to parents in order to help them tackle the issue of childhood obesity.
In the UK, according to statistics released by Public Health England, two thirds of adults and a quarter of children between the ages of two and ten are overweight or are now classified as obese. One in ten children now start primary school as obese. Obesity during childhood is likely to result in these children being obese when they reach adulthood and they estimate that this obesity epidemic could cause 70 per cent of UK adults to be obese by 2034. This figure will cause a huge strain on the NHS as people suffer premature ill health and would increase mortality rates.
In 2005 the National Child Measurement Programme came into force in England. The programme gathers important data about the population by measuring the height and weight of each child as they join and leave primary school to calculate their BMI. Once weighed, if it’s found that a child is overweight, the child’s parents are sent a ‘fat letter’ warning them of the dangers of being overweight and giving them advice about how to make lifestyle changes.
However a poll of 678 parents found that many didn’t even know that the National Child Measurement Programme was taking place didn’t understand what the results meant.
The Royal Society of Public Health feel that changes need to be made:
- They want parents of overweight children to be spoken to face-to-face or over the phone before being sent the ‘fat letter’.
- Greater support needs to be given to parents by giving them vouchers for after-school activities and for healthy meals.
- The National Child Measurement Programme needs to work more closely with other public health initiatives such as WHO and the Change4Life organisation.
A spokeswoman for Public Health England said it was up to local authorities to decide how to tackle the issue of childhood obesity. “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.”