Fight the fat


Yesterday The Guardian reported on the Department of Health's plan that starting next month parents will be sent letters that contain their children’s heights, weights and whether they are underweight, a healthy weight, overweight or very overweight. This plan is an attempt to address England’s expanding obesity problem. 

If you were visiting friends and noticed that their little Sally was a couple stones heavier than your little Billy you most likely wouldn't say, "Harriet, Sally is looking a little heavy. Don't you think you should put her on a diet?" It is not your job, and certainly not the government's job to tell parents when their child is fat, mainly because it is an issue of personal responsibility for the parents to look after a child's health. They should not rely on public services to alert them to when their child is overweight, nor should we encourage that behaviour by providing the service.

The initiative is also frustrating because how could parents not notice that their 8-year-old child outweighs comparable children by 10 kg. It seems suspect if the child in question seems to be carrying around almost 2 bowling bowls in extra body weight. The Department of Health is basically giving parents an easy way out by allowing them to plead ignorance to their child's rotundness.

Putting the creation of the program aside – if the letters are going to be sent they might as well be to the point and forceful. Ministers are worried about stigmatising children and so have decided to avoid the words "fat" and "obese". If you want parents to react to these letters they need to be convinced or otherwise the children will become stigmatised because they'll hear it everyday in the playground. And the 4 categories that ministers did approve of aren’t convincing at all. By combining "obese" into "very overweight" it softens the message parents receive and it won't make them notice or be more proactive, especially if they haven't noticed the obesity in the first place.