Childhood obesity: Your comments

Obese boy One in three children in England leave primary school overweight

Most of us are aware that obesity is a problem and may even know that the UK is in the middle of a child obesity epidemic. But many parents are unable to tell when their own child is overweight.

In this week's Scrubbing Up, consultant paediatrician Professor Mary Rudolf asks why it is so difficult to recognise when children are overweight.

BBC News website readers have sent their comments.

My child left primary school last year, her weight was fine for her height, as her body is now starting to mature however I'm finding it more difficult to work out if she's gaining/losing weight as a natural consequence of her changing shape or if I need to keep a closer eye on her diet. I want to get the balance right and keep her healthy without giving her body issues.

Rebecca, Timperley

The National Child Measurement Programme, and other measures, uses BMI in identifying children into broad categories of fatness (obese, overweight etc) As Professor Mary Rudolf should know, a BMI score alone does not give an accurate indication of a healthy weight particularly in children, something most experts recognise. It was only adopted due to a lack of better alternatives. Whilst many children would benefit from a better diet and more exercise, using inaccurate measures to stigmatise children and families is of questionable benefit and could make the situation worse. Labelling children's bodies as unacceptable is highly unlikely to encourage children or their parents to engage in the type of physical activities such as sports that could improve their health.

Dr L , Birmingham

I was overweight as a child, my Mum constantly made remarks about it, how it embarrassed her to have an overweight daughter because of what people were saying. Her answer was not to encourage me to eat healthy or take exercise instead she would make me eat all my meal even if I wasn't hungry, now as a consequence I find myself as an obese adult because I had it trained into me to eat everything on the plate. It seems times haven't changed parents need to accept responsibility for their children, that it's them that feed the children not the childs fault.

Jo, Manchester

Unfortunately the National Child Measurement Programme is undertaken by non clinically trained staff who are prone to error. We received a letter stating that our son had been weighed and found to be clinically obese, weighing in at 29 kg. In fact his weight is 19 kg. It is not obesity but standards of education that is the problem here.

David, Ruislip

As a teacher of four-to-seven-year-olds I have had to tell parents that their child is obese to the point of being unable to sit on the carpet or get up easily. It is very difficult to explain the problem when they themselves are overweight. I even tried to help with meal advice and offered several quick easy recipes to try. This was met with thanks but also a resignation that it's so difficult to resist food industry marketing and buy, buy, buy and never mind the health cost. For many people this is the real problem as they are unaware of how manipulated they are being.

Alison, Chichester

When I look at photos of my children as babies and toddlers I can't believe how fat they were - like little sumos. My son could only wear pyjamas. To me they were perfect in every way and the ripples of fat on their ankles were endearing. They are now skinny - a little too skinny, sporty, healthy-eating teenagers. Neither I nor they can believe that we didn't see them as chubbies when they were little. I think it's very hard sometimes to see a child you love as anything but perfect.

Emma, Gloucester

It is a sad state of affairs when we are so disconnected from our bodies that we can't even recognize such obvious ailments as obesity. But what do we expect from nations whose governments obsess about educating the brain only? We don't teach them how to be human, how to live life. What happened to education in deportment and culture, physical and martial arts, poetry, calligraphy, art and the like? Instead, governments train our children to beef up their intellect alone. We cut gym classes and sports programs and we get kids hooked on the computer. It is no surprise, then, that we end up with people so disconnected from their bodies and stuck in the escape worlds in their heads that we don't even know when we are obese!

ST, Thailand

I went to a boarding school and we were weighed and measured at the beginning and end of every school year, with the results sent directly to our parents. While there was never an indication of whether or not the child was overweight, parents could see in black and white how heavy (or light) their child was. I think this was a pretty good way of doing it - nobody was going to get offended as there was no mention of whether the child was overweight or underweight, it was just stating a fact.

FH, Notts

Recently, I worried that my five-year-old son was underweight because I can see all his ribs. I did not realise that this was considered normal for a child. I am surprised that we no longer talk about "puppy fat". When I was a child, kids who weren't "skinny" like my son, were "chubby" like me, but it was also quite normal then, and considered to be "puppy fat" which was lost in the teenage years. Are you sure that this isn't still the case with many children? We need to get the balance right between alarming people (and causing distress to the child) and actually having serious health concerns.

Agatha, Cheshire

No parent wants to hear that their child is overweight. Unfortunately though with the rising cost of food it is often the unhealthy options that end up the cheapest and for a family on a low income they often don't have much choice. I know of many parents who are in denial about their children's weight and insist that they do eat healthily, but the unfortunate crux is that youngsters are more likely to spend hours at home in front of a PC or games consol than out playing in the fresh air. Parents are less willing to let their kids out to play because of the dangers and so you end up in a vicious circle. Healthy eating is only part of the equation if the child is still not getting enough exercise or is overeating the healthy options - the results are going to be the same as if they were still eating junk!

Boris, Somerset

We have three children, all, thankfully, healthy. My wife always cooks our food which she always buys fresh. The eldest is what we call slim (and so do the school he attends). Our second child is classed as the lower end of "slightly obese". As I said we all eat exactly the same foodstuff. We all enjoy walking in the fields outside our front door every evening wind, rain or snow. I personally would have more confidence in our country's drive to eliminate any level of obesity from childhood to adult if they did not base their measurements on the badly slewed BMI tables. The BMI tables are so clearly wrong, in so many cases, one has to wonder why they are still used. I have two elder boys from my first marriage. One is playing rugby league with all the fitness such a sport demands. The other never does sports, drives everywhere and eats and drinks whatever he likes. Guess which one has been declared slightly obese? The sport playing one. If those who control such things came up with some way of properly measuring people, especially the nation's children, perhaps people would then clearly see children who are leaning towards obesity.

Bill, Hull

As a school governor, I opposed the intrusion of the National Child Measurement Programme into my school. The entire process was ethically flawed with confused and inadequate information about consent and data protection, with no clear benefit to the children, their parents or to medical research. Until some real science is done, the constant propaganda about "obesity" is not worthy of attention.

Megan, Cheshire

Parents need to get a grip on reality and do what's best for their child whether they are offended or not. It's about the health and well being of a child. I think offending parents is the last thing anyone should be worrying about.

Ronald, London

My child's weight is an issue, and the school has been helpful in supporting us in our efforts to assist her. However, funding for PE and other exercise programmes at school is sorely lacking. Healthy eating is encouraged through the curriculum, but it never really addresses the causes of overeating, such as depression, low self-esteem, problems at home, or health problems such as food allergies that cause my child no end of grief. The NHS is very poor at dealing with all of this - often doctors are insensitive in addressing the issue, making my child even more depressed, and providing, frankly, no support at all for families in crisis. The source of the child's problems does not lie solely in overeating but the causes of their need to eat.

Laura, Plymouth

As a medical practitioner and full time lecturer in Health and Social Care, I teach all aspects of childcare and health. It is difficult to give information to overweight children and young adults who in my professional opinion are clearly overweight, this is mainly due to their perceptions of being victimised by teaching staff and not being able to take responsibility for their dietary intake.

BE, Wiltshire

I didn't know that ribs should be visible. My seven-year-old eats like a sparrow, is very active, and I can see his ribs, which worries me. On the other hand, his brother is constantly on the line of being overweight, and is pretty sedentary. Reading this, he might be worse than I thought. No doubt this will be put down to my "bad parenting skills", rather than the metabolic rate of each child, and how much they eat, and how active they like to be.

Sandra, Glos

My daughter is obese and has been on and off since her late teens. She has two daughters both also obese. I tried to teach healthy eating during her childhood. She would however, spend her pocket money on junk food. I always allowed a certain amount of crisps, sweets etc in her diet, as with my son who is slim, healthy and active. In her early teens at school she was athletic and played in school team sports.

CT, Hereford

As a parent of two, aged 11 and 12, I'd disagree with the "healthy 10-year-old has visible ribs" statement. Much like BMI, this is a generalisation that does not take into account ethnic background, activity levels, gender and genetic predisposition towards accumulation of fat.

SM, London

As a teacher I am becoming more and more appalled by the endemic and institutionalised bullying of overweight children. Yes I know the arguments about health are valid but whatever system is arrived at to help surely must be discreet and sensitive. Overweight children have an awful time at school despite the best efforts of anti-bullying. They are painfully aware of their problems but humiliation and teasing by classmates is not nearly as hurtful to them as the contempt they feel from teachers and other staff. No other group can be spoken about in the staff room in the way the overweight children can. The arrogance of the thin is comparable to any racial or religious bigotry. As for helping the children be more active, how many "fat" children will be given a chance to shine in PE? Instead they are forced to wear unflattering outfits and asked to keep up with more athletic friends - a tailored and more nurturing, encouraging exercise programme is needed.

Finn, UK

I have two sons aged five and seven. It is very difficult to get information about what is a healthy weight for them, so the only way for parents to judge it to look at their children's friends. There are so many issues around weight and eating that little information is published that says what a healthy weight is for a particular age and height child. I can imagine therefore that it is a shock for parents who think their child is average to be told they are actually overweight.

Rachel, Bristol

Is there a body of scientific or statistical evidence to support the view that a ten-year-old's ribs should be clearly visible? Even back in the 60s that wasn't generally the case. I was very skinny but many of my friends were "normal" and, as far as I know, they are all in good shape. This obesity issue has become a little ridiculous if overweight is now defined as "no visible ribs."

Jonathan, Manchester

I wish that in articles such as these you would make it clear that some children (eg. my son) are obese because of genuine, properly diagnosed genetic disorders. I am sick of people looking at my son and assuming he and I are stupid and lazy.

Deborah, Argyll & Bute

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