Primary Schools

Too close to home

Child eating hamburger

Any issue relating to a child’s weight is often a difficult one to call. Weight is a sensitive topic for any individual but the delicacy of the subject increases significantly when it comes to minors. This is for a multitude of reasons, not least the child’s tender age.

When considering those under the age of sixteen, the focus doesn’t rest on the child for very long. When we are looking for the root of a problem, attention almost immediately shifts to the grownup in charge. There has to be an adult responsible for the child’s health and wellbeing – it’s not the child’s responsibility – and, usually, behind each child lurks a (defensive) parent.

It’s often difficult for parents to recognize a child’s faults, particularly when those faults are right in front of them, staring them in the face. Blinded by love or maybe just unwilling to recognize that there is an issue that she or he, as the parent, must take some responsibility for, mum or dad is often the last to acknowledge when a problem with a child’s size and weight is occurring.

It could be that the parents have weight issues themselves. Maybe the whole family suffers from a poor diet and it’s the norm but if the adults don’t identify their own weight issues, they’re certainly not going to recognize the issues of their children.

It’s a form of denial which encompasses a fear of blame. A parent’s role is to protect a child and to do what’s best; to steer them on the right path and to set standards. If that child then becomes overweight, the parent may be perceived to have let him or her down in some way.

This week, the British Journal of General Practice cited obesity as the new normal in society as parents don’t seem to recognize it, with nearly a third of parents underestimating the weight of their child. The scale of the obesity epidemic has reached a tipping point in the UK and all experts are agreed that action has to be taken. Shining a spotlight on the parents is a place to start as eating habits begin in the home.

Professor Russell Viner, from the Institute of Child Health was quoted on the BBC website earlier this week: “We need to find some tool to educate parents, when their child is born, what they should expect a child’s size to be and not to be afraid of talking to parents over fears they, or the child, will react badly.”

Talking to parents is key. That fear of basic direct communication and of causing an offence must come second to the fear of raising a nation of children with weight problems and serious health conditions associated with the same.

This now falls to the professionals. GPs and teachers, this is your domain. Question parents, encourage them, have a quiet word and give them a gentle nudge. The NHS will almost certainly not be able to shoulder this burden beyond the current generation – if that – so this issue must not be skirted around. When you have the opportunity, if a child’s size and weight is of concern, it has to be addressed.