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Petition Stop measuring the height and weight of children in primary school

Children in Reception and Year 6 currently have their height and weight recorded by school nurses to check whether their BMI is over or under weight. They then receive a letter home for additional help with this. I believe this scheme is detrimental to children’s mental health.

More details

Children’s health has to do with more than their BMI. Weighing children at 4/5 can instill into them a belief that their weight is important NOT their health. Children at 11/12 are far more aware and can discuss their results with their peers, which can perpetuate the problem further. I believe this scheme does more harm than good.

Given the impact the pandemic has had on children’s health, action needs to be taken to protect the mental health of children.

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Government responded

This response was given on 22 July 2021

The Government has no plans to stop this statutory public health function. This data is used by the National Health Service and other local services to improve children’s health.

Read the response in full

The school height and weight measuring programme, known as the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) is a statutory public health function for local authorities. It began in 2006 and generates official statistics to monitor the health status of children.

The NCMP measures the height and weight of over a million children every year. Data reports on patterns and trends including underweight, healthy weight, overweight and very overweight; based on age and sex. The data is used to measure progress on the Government’s Childhood Obesity Plan, which aims to significantly reduce the impact deprivation can have on health and wellbeing. The data is also used by local councils and the National Health Service to help plan better services to support parents and families to improve children’s health. National and local data can be found here: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/national-child-measurement-programme and here https://fingertips.phe.org.uk/profile/national-child-measurement-programme.

The wellbeing of children and families is vital. Measurements are conducted in a sensitive way, in private and away from other children. The weight and height information is shared with the parent or carer in a feedback letter. No individual information is shared with the children themselves, the teachers or the school. It is a parent’s choice if they share the information with their child. If a parent is concerned about their child’s growth, weight, body image or eating patterns NCMP feedback letters provide national and local information to support parents and advise on when to seek further support from a school nurse or General Practitioner. Parents react differently to receiving their child’s NCMP feedback, so guidance is available to help school nursing teams and NCMP delivery staff have supportive conversations with parents about the NCMP and their child’s health and growth. The NCMP conversation framework for talking to parents can be viewed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-child-measurement-programme-conversation-framework.

The emotional impact of the NCMP has been extensively researched. Studies show that body image, self-esteem, weight-related teasing and restrictive eating behaviours do not change as a result of being measured or receiving feedback. It was also found that most children (96%, 351 children) are indifferent or unconcerned about being weighed or measured. The small number of children (4%, 13 children) that disliked the process were mainly from year six, children aged 10 to11 years. This reinforces the need for sensitivity when weighing and measuring older children. More on this research can be found in the links here:

https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/122/3/e682.long

• Study A: impact of the National Child Measurement Programme https://www.journalslibrary.nihr.ac.uk/pgfar/pgfar08030#/scientific-summary

Half of parents do not recognise that their child is living with obesity (1). Children living with obesity are at higher risk of poorer emotional well-being, social stigma, bullying and depression, and eating disorders in older children (2). The NCMP informs parents of their child’s weight status to raise awareness. This can lead to families seeking support and being referred to healthier weight services. Children who participate in family-based healthier weight services have lower rates of eating disorders than would be expected based on their risk profiles. Timely and sensitive, non-stigmatising support can improve a child and young person’s wellbeing and reduce the risk of eating disorders in children who are living with obesity (3).

One study (4) with 1,884 people found NCMP feedback to be helpful (87% of parents). More than one-fifth of parents of overweight children reported feeling upset, but only 1.8% of parents stated that they would withdraw their child from the NCMP in the future. One-quarter of parents of overweight children and half of parents of children living with obesity sought further information regarding their child’s weight.

Public Health England has a rigorous approach to reviewing all the NCMP guidance on an annual basis and consulting with stakeholders including; expert clinical and health psychologists in weight management, mental health and eating disorders and behaviour, as well as specialist mental health experts. Children, young people and families, school-nurses and headteachers, are also consulted to seek their views of the programme and how it can be continually improved.

(1) https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/133/3/e689
(2) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/time-to-solve-childhood-obesity-cmo-special-report
(3) https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/psychological-perspectives-obesity-addressing-policy-practice-and-research
(4) https://www.journalslibrary.nihr.ac.uk/pgfar/pgfar08030#/scientific-summary

Department of Health and Social Care

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