A War on Weight in the Classroom
Do I remember every science lesson from when I was in school?
Every physics experiment, chemistry explosion or dissection? No.
(Well the latter yes, because I walked out every time with animal rights
cited as the reason which was invariably respected).
I do however remember a biology lesson on calculating our BMI, and
though I can honestly say this did not cause me to have an eating
disorder, I can go back to the moment I had to calculate it and picture
my little self being astonished that a number could tell me how healthy
Years later I sat by as a teacher whilst children in my class got taken
out in small groups to be weighed. This was not a GCSE biology class
where hopefully, now, one young adult would be able to stand up and
say that worth is not determined by weight. But the pre-pubescent 10
years olds to whom, their bodies are quite alien and scary. The
National Child Measurement Programme was established in 2006 and
requires all children in reception and year 6 to be weighed at
state-funded primary schools. Despite how loudly I, as a teacher
raised my concern to the senior leadership about this happening, I
could not stop it from happening due to the fact that state schools are
currently being thrown numerous amounts of documents,
requirements and tests from the government that are ‘recommended’
and often framed in a positive light.
On the same level as this were the remarks I was met with by other
staff members - which were ‘surely you think that parents should be
told if their child is fat’ and ‘but it’s better to stop them from getting fat
now’’. School values are often referred to in primary school
assemblies and held in high regard. Never have I been to a school
where being thin or within a certain BMI is a school value.
The NCMP implies that it is the law to be within the correct weight
range. Which rings alarm bells of it being against the law to be gay,
lesbian or a different religion. To me, the implication even without the
fact is enough to confirm the fat-phobic and diet-obsessed country we
live in. There is a reason that terms and conditions are often in such a
small font or that when trying to speak to someone human on the
phone by the time you have pressed every option you have been
You can and should (biased) opt out of the NCMP. Not because you
want your child to be a certain weight or fit a pattern or stereotype, but
because you want them to not. To not watch their parent open a letter
that deems their worth, not ask their friends if they too have been put
on diets or told to go for runs more, to not worry that when they start
secondary school their bodies will determine their group of friends or
level of popularity.
Am I saying that because your child is weighed at school this will
happen? No, just like I am saying that because you smoke I can’t
promise you will get cancer, or because you don’t wear a seatbelt I
can’t assure you that you will go throw the windscreen.
However, studies show that children whose parents are told they are
‘over-weight’ according to their BMI (which I will point out, was made
up by a white male mathematician in 1830 and is scientifically
inaccurate as it does not take into account bone density, fat
percentage, racial or cultural figures) are more likely to be put on a
diet and be told casually to "watch what they eat". Furthermore, the children
themselves are far more likely to take to social media to search for
body norms, acceptance and unhealthy coping mechanisms.
It is scary to fight against the system, and send in that opt-out letter -
to suggest to those you know that they should opt out of something
that aims to help their child stay ‘healthy’, but trust me, it is scarier to
try to explain to a twelve-year-old that no amount of food or lack of
food will heal them.