Wednesday 23 June 2021 2:00 pm

Weigh-ins for kids will be a gift for school bullies and will fail to tackle obesity

Christine Kelly is the founder of Little Kickers

The return of school weigh-ins will from September reminds us of a problem we as a nation know we have: British children are amongst the most obese in Western Europe. Months of lockdowns and homeschooling have only made things worse

Forcing children to be fat shamed in front of their peers is the last thing we should be doing, however. I remember from my own school days that this can give children an unhealthy obsession with a number on a scale which often is not an indication of how healthy someone is. It will also be a gift to the school bully, who will be busy spotting which children have put on the most weight over lockdowns.

Despite the need to whittle down our waistlines, physical education was not mentioned in the £700 million Education Recovery Fund. Weighing kids will do little if we’re not equipping them with the tools to keep themselves healthy.

Children need to me in a fit state physically and mentally for their own health, but also so they can return to school and take advantage of their extra learning. That starts with proper investment in their physical education, since the link between physical health, mental health, and educational outcomes is painstakingly clear.

A new report by the School’s Active Movement has found 84 per cent of schools have documented a decline in children’s physical fitness and two thirds of respondents have gained excessive weight. 

The physical education gap in Britain will be even bigger post-pandemic. Middle class children with large homes and gardens will have been more active. Poorer children will have been sedentary. The poorest children are twice as likely to be obese than wealthier kids.

If we want our children to get back to learning and, like the rest of us, put this pandemic behind us, we need them to be happy: there is a clear link between learning outcomes and mental wellbeing. British children are up to twice as likely to be obese than their European neighbours. 

We need to start taking sports and physical education seriously. Many parents are understandably focused on exam results: Better a child who can read and add up and is a bit overweight than vice versa. It is a cliche, but particularly when it comes to our children a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. And a healthy mind is necessary for good exam results. Homeschooling and increased screen time have only made things more critical. 

Ideally, that should start with the school week. Even a small increase in a child’s physical activity can have a transformational effect on their energy levels, wellbeing and even their social skills. Some of the children who only exercise with us for 45 minutes a week, yet parents still frequently comment on the big difference a small time investment can make. 

Children’s sport – if we want it to be the start of a lifelong habit – should be driven by a sense of imagination and play, not militaristic discipline.

Our children have suffered more than adults over the past year. It may be years or decades until we know the effect it will have on them. We can help them recover by starting with their physical health. Fortunately, for those children who do not have the right sporting facilities at school, affordable private providers are able and willing to fill the gap. 

Our schooling system – and often our society as a whole – treats PE as an afterthought, meaning that those private providers, sports clubs and gyms (in other words, the ‘private tutors’ of physical education) are a lifeline to many.

That lifeline is based on a sense of play, enjoyment and a natural sense of healthy movement, which is exactly what children’s young bodies – and minds – need.

That is exactly the opposite of a forced Weight Watchers style weigh-in, which would not be tolerated in any adult environment. Neither should it be in school.

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