In an attempt to fight obesity, the government could force schools across England to weigh and measure their students. Under a suggested policy from No 10, children would jump on the scales and have their middles taped once a year. If they qualified as overweight, they’d be subjected to extra gym classes and a school-imposed programme of weight loss.
Schools could be judged on their ability to help students shed pounds, creating some sort of perverse competition based on the shrinking waistlines of pupils. A hierarchy of schools based on shaming pupils into losing weight is alarming and bizarre. Do they get extra funding if they make the kid cry? A bonus for every child who develops an eating disorder after having to stand on the scales in front of friends? A gold star for pushing students under their care into a lifetime of yo-yo dieting?
This is precisely the wrong way to go about combating the country’s supposed weight problem. It is a terrible, ill-advised, short-sighted idea – and one that could be quite dangerous. One in five kids are obese by the end of primary school, which is alarming – but to shame them into weight loss simply teaches them to equate their worth with a number on a scale, and sets them up for a lifetime of thinking their size is some sort of indication of who they are.
The only way we are going to make any progress solving the obesity and anorexia epidemics in the UK is to address our dangerously fraught relationship with food, eating and body image. The obvious service a school can provide is education, often the thing lacking when a person is under- or overweight. Schools should be teaching kids about nutrition and exercise, yes, but they should also be encouraging a healthy, functional attitude to food that includes separating a person’s worth from their weight on a scale. They shouldn’t be preaching calories and kilos; they should be teaching children and teenagers to feel happy, strong and informed enough to live as healthy a life as possible.