English PCTs are to send parents letters telling them if their children are overweight.
According to the British government, most parents of fat children don’t think their children are overweight and sending a letter from the local NHS trust using data collected by schools will prompt them to take action.
However, the NHS have told PCTs not to use the word obese or tell parents the BMI of their children because it will confuse them. Condascending arseholes.
The problem with the BMI measurement is that it’s just another arbitrary one-size-fits-all measurement and as such, is fairly meaningless unless you are at the extremes. According to the BMI guidance I am somewhere between class 1 and 2 obese and am at risk of heart disease, infertility, arthritis, stroke and cancer.
My heart is fine, I certainly don’t suffer from fertility problems, I have had chronic juevenile osteoarthritis since I was a (thin) child, I can’t comment on strokes but I’m more worried about the number of people in my family who’ve had cancer upping my risk than I am over being fat.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that being fat is unhealthy and it certainly doesn’t do my dodgy knees any good and I’m losing weight slowly. But the BMI isn’t an accurate measure because it doesn’t take into account your natural build. Thanks to my paternal gene pool, I’m 6’1″ tall and if I wasn’t fat I’d be “stocky”. My old man has got barely an ounce of fat on him yet he’s as wide as me. He’s 6’4″ tall and falls into the overweight category on the BMI. If he got to a weight that fits the “normal” range on the BMI you’d see his ribs.
By contrast, my youngest son is horribly thin but he’s tall for his age. His BMI probably puts him in the underweight bracket but he’s perfectly healthy – he’s just tall and thin.
I remember visiting the doctor a year or two ago who decided to do a spontaneous asthma check up. My peak flow was above average for someone without asthma yet when she used a different method of calculating my body mass she told me I was border-line morbidly obese.
Anyway, this isn’t about my medical history, it’s about these letters to parents telling them that their kids are fat. As I’ve hopefully demonstrated above the BMI is flawed and it’s quite possible to get it wrong. A lot of parents are going to be getting letters from their local NHS trust telling them that their child is “very overweight” or underweight and this letter will be sent by a computer somewhere analysing a set of data that actually needs to be interpreted by a human being or at least be complimented by additional information about the child.
The parents getting the “very overweight” letter will presumably put their child on a diet and the parents getting the “underweight” letter will presumably start trying to fatten their kids up. Both sets of parents, you would hope, will be fretting over the health of their child.
But what if the BMI is wrong and the child isn’t obese or underweight but is a perfectly healthy child that simply has a large or small frame?
Too much faith is put in statistics and arbitrary scales and targets and not enough in common sense.
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