First published in The Portsmouth News, 22/04/14
A year ago a letter came home from my daughter’s school, detailing a new after-school club that was going to be run by an external agency. At first glance this club looked great: healthy physical games, healthy cookery, and free. I suspect that the latter may have swayed it for some parents because after-school clubs rarely come cheap.
This all sounded great to me, until I continued reading. I read about how my six year old would have her waist measurement taken at the start of the club, and about how she would then have it taken again at the end of it, twelve weeks later.
According to the letter, this measurement would be repeated to ‘ensure that the club benefitted the children’, which translates as ‘the children lose inches or at least gain none.’ Cue much maternal fury and a hasty email to the school raising my concerns.
To be making such young children aware of waist measurements, body image and size, and comparing it to their friends’, infuriates me. It’s nothing short of a recipe for a future eating disorder. It bothers me enough when people instil a concept of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food in their children, banging on in the language of the diet industry, as opposed to speaking in terms of balance, health and strength.
I suspect that the majority of women reading this think about their size on a near daily basis. Who on earth wants to open their kids up to that before it’s inevitable? What about just eating intuitively, when you’re hungry, and stopping when you’re full? How about just going out at the weekend to ride a bike, play, or walk the dog?
When the letter came home I spoke to an ex-student of mine who is a recovering anorexic and she was horrified. I also emailed the lady behind the scheme in Portsmouth and she vehemently defended her ideas. In her mind, there were no grey areas: the best approach to obesity is to measure infants’ waists. With no research into the long-term pros and cons for the children involved in this, and their eventual relationships with food and body image, I find it frightening.
The woman in question also said that she measured her young daughters’ waists to such an extent that they ‘ask to be measured now’; more fool her. I also notice that the school have not employed the club this year: kudos to them.