More “obese” children — according to the brain-dead NHS
Clearly, they wouldn’t know obesity if they fell over it
To all outward appearances Logan Knowles is a healthy, active little boy. The football-mad four-year-old loves nothing more than kicking a ball about in the garden after school, and if he’s not practising his goal-scoring skills then he’s usually to be found tearing around on his bike.
So imagine his mother Stefanie’s shock — and outrage — when in January this year she received a letter from the NHS saying her son was ‘clinically obese’ and warning that he was at risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
‘I was absolutely furious — there’s nothing of him,’ Stefanie says. ‘If anything, he is skinny for his age. He still wears clothing labelled for a three-year-old, although he is nearly five. There’s not an extra ounce of fat on his body — sometimes you can see his ribs.’
The letter arrived after Logan was weighed at school as part of the controversial National Child Measurement Programme, which started in 2005 and assesses the heights and weights of children in their first and last years of primary school.
As a result, hundreds of ordinary-looking children, like Logan, have received letters informing them they are overweight or obese, an often distressing experience for both child and parents.
Logan is 3ft 3in tall, and at 2st 12lb is a mere three pounds outside the recommended weight range for his peers. But at such a young age, that tiny difference makes an immense difference to his BMI, putting him on the 99th centile.
For adults, BMI is measured by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared. But the calculation for children is different. It begins the same way, but the result is then compared with others of the same age and sex to calculate the child’s ‘centile’ — or position relative to others on a scale of one to 100. Between 91 and 97 is classed as overweight, and any child who scores 98 and above is branded clinically obese.
No other factors are taken into account, not least because the letters informing parents of their child’s obesity are often generated by a computer which studies the data.
While no one is suggesting the Government shouldn’t take measures to tackle the childhood obesity crisis, there are many who view the system as misguided and flawed.
As Tam Fry, Trustee of the National Obesity Forum and Honorary Chairman of the Child Growth Foundation, explains: ‘These letters do not take into account the build of the child and its heritage. That is the major problem. A child can have a high BMI, but be absolutely normal if they come from a tall, well-built family.’
‘Sometimes a computer will inappropriately trigger a letter saying your child is overweight and will die, or some such nonsense. It’s unbelievably bad medicine and in many cases hugely insulting to parents who are probably extremely fit and making sure their child is brought up properly.’
Stefanie, 29, a part-time administrative assistant from Walsall in the West Midlands, certainly felt her parenting skills were under fire. She says she wasn’t even informed that Logan was being weighed at school, and the letter was the first she knew of it.
‘As a parent, I know what’s best for my child. It angers me beyond belief that these people don’t realise the detrimental effect they are having’
‘I phoned the woman from the NHS trust who had sent it to tell her how ridiculous it was and she started quizzing me on his diet and exercise,’ Stefanie says. ‘It felt like there was some kind of ulterior motive — as if she was questioning my parenting skills. Whatever happened to common sense? Anyone who looks at Logan can see that he’s fine.’
Stefanie, who lives with her partner Luke, 33, a flood technician, and also has two older daughters, aged 11 and ten, says labelling children when they are still growing is dangerous.
‘Sydanie, my ten-year-old, was weighed at the same time and was at the other end of the spectrum. She came home saying she was the thinnest in her class and it seems that they were told their weights in front of everyone. Children shouldn’t be preoccupied with these things.’
Unfortunately, despite her best efforts to protect him, Logan became aware of the fact that he had been branded obese after his older sister revealed what had been in the letter. It had a profound effect on the boy.
‘For weeks afterwards, his eating became very laboured,’ Stefanie explains. ‘He just went into himself and didn’t eat as much as usual. He will normally try new things — which is actually very unusual in a young child — but he became much more cautious.
‘The woman who had sent the letter followed it up with an email about after-school activity clubs. Logan doesn’t need that — he’s for ever running around with his older sisters. I completely ignored the advice I was given by the NHS and thankfully Logan is back to normal and eating well again.
Libbie Boardman, too, started eschewing food after a similar weigh-in found her to be borderline obese. At seven, she is 4ft 2in tall and weighs 5st 5lb, putting her on the 97th centile. As Libbie, who comes from Greater Manchester, is a budding gymnast and table-tennis player who loves playground games with her friends, her mother, Louise, was appalled after she and her husband received the news in a letter in December last year.
‘We were very shocked to see that she was considered in that way,’ says Louise, a 34-year-old office manager. ‘She’s very active and gets a lot of fresh air playing outside with her friends. She also eats a healthy, balanced diet.’
Louise, who is married to Paul, 43, a window cleaner, and has another daughter, Sophie, 14, adds. ‘We took Libbie to the GP, who said that the numbers were right but that there was nothing to worry about because Libbie was perfectly healthy. But the whole thing meant we had to discuss with her what was going on — she’s very inquisitive and needs answers.’
Mr Boardman, 43, adds: ‘Afterwards, Libbie started saying things like she didn’t want any tea. I told her she was being silly. She never has junk food, just the odd treat now and again. She’s also very active — what I’d describe as the rough-and-tumble type.’
Not surprisingly, the Boardmans haven’t weighed Libbie since receiving the letter from the NHS. ‘One look at her tells you she’s healthy,’ Louise says. ‘I don’t want her to start focusing on her weight.
‘I was angry because they didn’t treat my child as an individual, but just as a set of numbers on a piece of paper. ‘It’s more than just the height and the weight; they should look at the build of the child. Libbie was a big baby — not fat, just big — and has stayed at the upper end of the scale ever since.
‘We live in a world where there is such a huge emphasis put on diet and weight. It’s really damaging for little girls and it now starts when they are toddlers’
‘I do think this will fuel anxiety over body image. It gets children thinking about the way they look at far too young an age. They should have the same kind of innocent upbringing we did.’
Child experts are already concerned about the negative effect anti-obesity messages can have on impressionable children.
Chris Calland, a former secondary school teacher turned educational consultant, who recently set up a body-image course for primary school-age children, says: ‘Some children have absorbed the anti-obesity message to such an extent that they dread gaining weight.
‘I’ve spoken to parents who say their children have become obsessive after learning about obesity as an issue at school — and the research shows even young children identify being fat with being unintelligent, lazy and smelly — something, in other words, to avoid at any price.’
And many parents, like those of six-year-old Kian Johnson, argue the figures are little more than useless in any case, because when it’s followed up with health professionals they are told there is nothing to worry about.
Kian, from Colchester, Essex, was branded clinically obese after he was found to be on the 98th percentile last year. Aged five at the time of his assessment, he was 3ft 8in tall and weighed 3st 11lb.
His mother, Emma, 29, says: ‘It was such a shock. We were worried that we’d had done something wrong. You always try to do the best for your children, so it’s very upsetting to have something like that come through the letterbox.’
The letter, from their local healthcare provider, said that doctors would describe Kian as ‘clinically obese’, meaning he was more likely to get diabetes, or suffer from low self-confidence.
Emma says: ‘He’s a robust boy, who loves being active and playing in the garden. And he eats a really healthy, balanced diet. His favourite foods are strawberries and tomatoes.’
Stay-at home mum Emma, along with husband Paul, 43, a DJ, decided to visit their local Primary Care Trust in person to discuss Kian’s supposed obesity problem.
‘They told us not to worry,’ says Emma, ‘And that he was actually fine. If that’s the case, I don’t understand why they’d send us something like that in the first place? They should apologise in writing.’
Wanting to protect their son from the findings, the Johnsons haven’t weighed Kian since last year, and there’s an argument that if the letters cause parents to disengage, then the process is failing again.
Esme Pearman’s experience illustrates not only that labelling can start even before a child reaches school age, but also the difference between receiving a letter and finding out from a health professional.
Aged two, her mother Charlene recently took her to their GP’s surgery for a routine health check, only to be told that she, too, was clinically obese. She is 2ft 1in tall and weighs 2st.
Charlene, 27, from Chelmsford, Essex, says: ‘The doctor weighed and measured her. She was on the seventh centile for height but the seventy-fifth for weight, which made her technically obese. I was really surprised because she is such an active little girl.
‘She’s also intolerant to dairy, which eliminates a lot of processed foods — they would make her ill. She has three meals a day and a couple of healthy snacks.’
In fact, since she could see the evidence before her eyes, Charlene’s health worker ultimately concluded that Esme was fine. ‘She said she looked so healthy that they weren’t worried about her despite the result,’ Charlene explains.
‘But why should I be told that she is technically obese? This kind of labelling can definitely cause anxiety for parents.
‘I dread to think how I would have felt if I had received that information in a letter when no one had looked at Esme and seen that she is perfectly all right.’
Stay-at-home mother Charlene, who is married to IT engineer Robert and also has a three-year-old daughter, Stella, says: ‘We live in a world where there is such a huge emphasis put on diet and weight. It’s really damaging for little girls and it now starts when they are toddlers. ‘I struggle with my own body image and that’s not something I want to pass on to my children.’
There are many parents who would wholeheartedly agree with her sentiments.
Student with brain tumour repeatedly turned away by doctors who said she was ‘homesick’
A student who was suffering from a brain tumour was repeatedly turned away by doctors who insisted she was just ‘homesick.’
Megan Thompson, who was just three weeks into her childhood studies course at Leeds Metropolitan University, complained of terrible headaches and walking problems and made repeated trips to the doctor. However, it wasn’t until two months later that she was diagnosed with a brain tumour the size of a golf ball.
Today the UK charity Teenage Charity Trust revealed one in four young people with cancer had a similar experience to Megan and visited their doctor at least four times before they were taken seriously and referred to a specialist.
The 20-year-old student from Sunderland, who lives with her mother Sarah, and sister, Alice, 16, said: ‘I began to get the most horrendous headaches and I couldn’t walk properly. It was then that I knew something was desperately wrong.
‘I couldn’t cut my food up and I couldn’t even hold a glass of water in my hand. Every time I went to the doctors they told me I was stressed or partying too hard. They just dismissed it and said I was homesick.’
She added: ‘It was December 16 when I had a scan and two days later I was having an operation to remove the tumour. ‘It was very quick for the operation, but it took so long to diagnose.’
Megan had 12 weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in a bid to rid her body of medulloblastoma. But when she suffered a reaction to the treatment, doctors placed her on a course of steroids to treat nerve damage.
A side-effect of the steroid meant bones in her leg were damaged and she was forced to undergo a hip replacement which left her in a wheelchair.
Now, after doctors put in a ceramic hip, she’s hoping to follow in the footsteps of the inspirational nurses who helped save her life.
Last month she took her first steps back to independence by getting behind the wheel again to drive.
And in October she will begin an oncology course at York University inspired by the treatment she received at the RVI’s Teenage Cancer Trust unit in Newcastle.
She said: ‘It’s so important that people keep a check out and make sure that they are alive to the signs, because it can save lives.’
The most common symptoms in young people are unexplained and persistent pain, a lump, bump or swelling, extreme tiredness, significant weight loss or changes in a mole.
Jeremy Clarkson cleared by British regulator for likening Japanese hybrid car to the Elephant Man
“Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has been cleared of any wrongdoing after comparing the shape of a new Japanese car to the Elephant Man. Controversial Clarkson said the Japanese car and camper van hybrid looked like ‘people with growths on their faces’. He then mimicked the famous disfigured Victorian man Joseph Merrick – played by actor John Hurt in the 1980 film – as he spoke about the car.
The brand of the car was not mentioned on the show but is believed to be a Prius
The star slurred his speech saying that the car resembled something you would not talk to at a party. Richard Hammond then dubbed it the ‘elephant car’.
His behaviour on the BBC motoring show Top Gear in February sparked outrage with the boss of a disfigurement charity saying such comments led to ridicule and bullying. Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom received 41 complaints from outraged viewers and the BBC more than 55. But despite this, Ofcom announced its decision today not to proceed with the complaints.
A spokesman said that, after careful assessment, Ofcom had decided not to pursue them because they did not raise issues warranting investigation. He said: ‘Ofcom recognises that the comments were potentially offensive to individuals living with facial disfigurement. ‘However, on balance, we believe that they would not have exceeded the likely expectation of the audience, and any potential offence was justified by the context.’
But he added: ‘We have informed the BBC of the issues raised by the complainants so they can be taken into consideration for future programmes.’
UFO-style British gas station is given heritage listing: “Fine architecture is not a phrase normally linked to the British petrol station. But that may have to change now that two filling stations have been granted Grade II listed status. This unusual filling station on the A1 at Markham Moor in West Drayton, Nottinghamshire, is one of them, thanks to its curved concrete roof. The other is an Esso garage on the A6 that has six `parasols’ over the pumps. The iconic Mobil station designed by U.S. architect Eliot Noyes in the 1960s is the last remaining one of its kind in the UK. Noyes died aged 66 in 1977 having pioneered the integration of business and design. Mobil merged with Exxon in 1999 and in the UK operates under the name Esso. Heritage minister John Penrose said both designs represented a time `when road travel captured the public’s imagination and the motorway was full of futuristic glamour’. Conservation experts say the stations have survived ‘remarkably well’ since being built in the late Sixties.