Pupil measurements accelerated amid fears of obesity crisis

Councils have been told they do not have to wait until January

New government strategy aims to get obese Brits to lose weight

The restart of a programme which weighs primary school pupils has been accelerated amid fears the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the UK’s childhood obesity problem.  

The weigh-ins, designed to highlight those at risk of becoming overweight, were cancelled in March as cases of the virus rocketed across the country.  

Most pupils spent the next five months at home and a bid to reopen schools before the end of the summer term had to be abandoned.  

Experts believe the break in their education, coupled with the effects of lockdown, could mean many have gained weight.

Even since schools finally reopened in September, thousands of pupils have spent large amounts of time out of the classroom, as institutions take strict measures designed to stop the spread of the disease.  

Officially, the weigh-ins are due to begin again in January.  

But a number of local authorities have already restarted the programme, The Independent understands.  

Councils have been told they do not have to wait until January, but should consult local public health directors as well as schools and others before taking action.  

Tam Fry, chair of the National Obesity Forum, called for the scheme to begin again in every school in England “immediately”.  

He warned: “There is great concern about the amount of weight that everyone has put on. We really have absolutely no idea the scale of the problem.”  

He also called for the scheme to be “reinvigorated” and pupils weighed every year, not just when they start and leave primary school, as now.  

In July, research by Sport England found that just one in five children under 16 had done the recommended hour or more a day in the past three months.

New guidance on the National Child Measurement Programme for the current school year warns that children with obesity are five times more likely to suffer from the condition as adults.

Restarting the scheme is important “because it will provide population-level data to help understand how Covid-19 has impacted child weight status, including obesity prevalence and inequalities”, it says.  

Although the programme does not officially restart until January, councils have been told the IT system for data collection “is now open”.  

They will not be expected to undertake “catch up” measurements for children who could not be measured last year.  

Sheena Carr, deputy head (children, young people and families) at Public Health England, said: “We encourage all local authorities to take part in this important public health programme. The data we collect will help us understand how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted children’s weight and will enable us to support parents and families who may need help to achieve and maintain a healthier weight.”

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