Health experts call for scrapping of ‘fat letters’

PUBLIC health experts are calling for “fat letters” - which tell parents if their child is overweight - to be scrapped or reformed.

Tuesday, 10th November 2015, 1:40 pm
Over a fifth (23%) of children in reception were classed as either overweight or obese in 2013/14

The Royal Society for Public Health said parents did not find the information useful and only half knew why their children were being weighed.

It said parents of obese children should be “contacted by telephone prior to receipt of the letter”.

And it called for other forms of support, such as healthy food vouchers or better access to after-school activity clubs.

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The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) measures the height and weight of children in reception class (ages four to five) and Year 6 (ages 10 to 11) to assess overweight and obesity levels in English primary schools.

More than 1.1 million children were measured in 2013/14 and had their body mass calculated.

Over a fifth (23%) of children in reception were either overweight or obese, while 10% were obese.

In Year 6, 34% of children were either overweight or obese, while 19% were obese.

The Royal Society for Public Health polled 678 parents of children aged 18 or under and found only 49% were aware of the NCMP.

Half (51%) understood its purpose, while 20% had received information as a result of the programme that had been useful in helping their child lose weight.

The society said that the programme needs better integration with other initiatives such as Change4Life and, if the letter is kept, for guides on diet and exercise to be included with the information sent to parents.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said: “It is unacceptable that one in five children leave primary school classed as obese and we must all pull together to reverse this worrying trend.

“We hope that the Government’s forthcoming obesity strategy will include many of our suggestions for action at all levels, particularly around the promotion of ‘junk food’ to children, encouraging reformulation of food and drink products, especially around sugar content, and increasing activity levels among children.

“Parents also need to be provided with support, and our calls to reform the ‘fat letter’ are intended to make better use of this.

“Our research finds that only one-fifth of parents find the ‘fat letter’ useful and we believe that the letter should be seen as the beginning of a dialogue with parents, not simply flagging whether their child is obese.”

Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) should be calling for an overhaul of the letter rather than for it to be scrapped.

“The letter as currently written is one of the more ludicrous and damaging that that the Department of Health has ever devised.

“But it could be so good and, as the RSPH rightly points out, a valuable tool in parents’ understanding why the valuable NCMP programme exists.

“David Cameron’s framework to tackle obesity, due to be published in January, may well call for an extension of the NCMP and this would be a timely opportunity to give the letter a thorough makeover.”