Candida Crewe: The weigh-in could become a weapon in the war against fat

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The Independent Online

At the beginning and end of each term we were ordered into a queue for our turn at the stake: a step up in front of everyone on to the old-fashioned scales in the school hall. They closely resembled the outsized ones in the school kitchen, daily employed to weigh large slabs of meat or dough.

We watched each victim flinching before the nurse as she flicked the brass gauge left, then right, and then, in my case at any rate, right again. We were seven, 11, 14, already in the business of comparing our pounds, and this all-too-public weigh-in promoted our anxieties and left no place to hide.

Those of us fatter than desirable keenly felt the burden of collective disapproval - of staff and peers alike - and of the inner misery that disapproval engendered. It is a humiliation I can remember to this day, and no school child should ever have to suffer it.

I do not object to the principle of the school weigh-in. The obesity problem is so dire that almost anything that promotes the fight against it is surely a force for good. Yet if the Government insists on reviving it, it must be conducted in new, more enlightened terms.

Parental consent must be gained. Each child must step on the scales only in strictest privacy (even if it means the nurse carrying out her duty in the school stationery cupboard). And, if a child has put on (or lost) a lot of weight, there must be in place a system that provides sensitive as well as discreet help and advice.

A school weigh-in alone will achieve nothing other than the fallout of lowered self-esteem. Managed conscientiously, though, it could become one small but effective weapon in the mother of all wars, which a gluttonous Western world is increasingly bringing upon itself.

Candida Crewe is the author of 'Eating Myself', published by Bloomsbury