LOCKDOWN has taken a toll on kids’ waistlines as they have been stuck at home snacking on junk food and banned from playing with their friends.
Shocking new statistics reveal the pandemic has fuelled record levels of childhood obesity and contributed to the number of overweight children starting school rocketing by 45 per cent.
Experts warn it will take years to reverse the impact of Covid measures, with more letters than ever before sent to parents from school health staff to inform them that their kids are obese.
Kim Roberts, chief executive of childhood charity HENRY (Health, Exercise and Nutrition for the Really Young), which helped Leeds become the first UK city to lower its rates of childhood obesity, warns there is an “urgent need to support families”.
She says: “It’s much harder to reverse obesity once it’s established, so we need to act now.''
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“We know parents are doing the best they can, often in very challenging circumstances.''
“Often the place we need to start is in supporting parents so they have the confidence, skills and resilience to make changes such as limiting their kids’ screen time, making sure children get active play time or swapping high-fat, high-sugar snacks for healthier alternatives.”
But as GPs call for drastic action, parents argue the system is broken.
Lizzie Riley-Howarth, 35, is a mum-of-two and business owner from Rosendale, Lancashire.
She’s married to Nigel, 40, a sales rep and is mum to Austin, nine, and Ellis, five.
Her son Austin was measured at 100.8cm (just under 3ft 7ins) and 18.1kg (2st 12lb) aged four.
She says: “We’ve always been told Austin was underweight, ever since he was a baby.''
“But after his reception year weigh-in, suddenly he was classed as overweight on his BMI.''
“We couldn’t believe it, there wasn’t a scrap of fat on him, there still isn’t.''
“He was incredibly slim at the time, you could see his ribs, he was that slender.''
“When I buy him trousers, I have to get the adjustable ones and put them on the smallest waist setting to make them fit.
“Austin’s very, very active and shortly after receiving the letter he got scouted for Manchester City and Burnley football academies, that’s how much he was playing.''
“We don’t starve the kid but he’s slim because he plays so much sport.''
“As a family, we have homemade food like pasta and roast dinners – with plenty of fruit and veg.''
"But he does also eat ‘treat food’ like pizza and sausages sometimes.''
''Everything in moderation.”
Austin’s letter was provided by Lancashire NHS care and funded by Lancashire County Council.
Lizzie says: “I didn’t mention it to Austin at the time. It’s sad a child who’s athletic and eats so well could be told he’s overweight.''
“We don’t have a problem with weight in our house, I’m slim myself and we’re not the sort of people who worry about it.''
“But it could really upset people. For us, it was really obvious it was a load of nonsense.''
“These letters shouldn’t be sent, it’s a very outdated system. It certainly doesn’t give you a proper representation of what a person’s weight is.''
“If Austin can be called overweight then there’s something very sadly wrong.”
‘Most parents find the test to be useful’
RESPONDING to the criticism, a Department of Health spokesman said: “The National Childhood Measurement Programme (NCMP) helps inform local and national actions to tackle childhood obesity.
“The new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities will lead national efforts to improve and level up the health of the nation. Our approach to the NCMP is reviewed every year, in consultation with a wide range of experts, as well as children and families, school nurses and heads.”
The spokesman said 87 per cent of parents surveyed found the test useful, although it does not measure a child’s physical activity or other health behaviours.
He added that parents should get advice from a GP or school nurse.
The main issue here is stigma
THIS Morning GP Dr Philippa Kaye, 42, is a mother of three from London. She says:
"It’s helpful for parents to know if their child is overweight, as preventing childhood obesity can help prevent obesity in adults.
In adults, 80 per cent of your weight is controlled by your genes.
Environmental factors you can control, like availability of food, how much activity you do and lack of sleep, make up just 15-20 per cent of the picture.
But in kids under 15, those genes aren’t all set yet. Younger children can also even out their weight more easily as they grow.
So it’s important we treat childhood obesity early, to have the biggest chance of preventing adulthood obesity and all the problems that brings.
BMI is not a perfect measure and a one-off value in reception is not always hugely helpful, but what we’re looking at is trends.
The main issue for me is the amount of stigma a letter like this brings. Parents can feel a lot of guilt and shame and anger.
It’s also really important we do not penalise one child and they aren’t told they have to eat differently to everybody else, because that’s where the stigma and mental health issues could begin.
Yo-yo dieting is dangerous and doesn’t work, instead I recommend whole families make changes, like walking more, introducing more fruit and veg, and decreasing the amount of fizzy drinks they consume.
Childhood obesity has been on the rise for a while; we live in an obensenogenic environment. Ultra-processed foods affect the gut-brain connection and mean people feel hungry more quickly after eating.
If you don’t have a lot of money and your local shop doesn’t stock healthy food, it’s difficult for parents.
Lockdown didn’t help, but I don’t think that was the main issue."
Another mum shared her story: ''My sporty daughter was labelled 'obese' in government letter – now she's trying to skip meals, I'm worried for her.''
On the topic of obesity, one sister's had enough. ''My brother’s morbidly obese at 42st & my parents want me to look after him – I’m refusing, he’s their problem.''
Meanwhile, size 12 fitness instructor breaks down in tears after prospective client says she’s ‘too fat’ for the job.
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