Select Committee on Public Accounts Eighth Report

2  Involving parents

9. The Departments have been reluctant to involve parents in their efforts to tackle child obesity despite evidence which shows that parents have most influence over their children's lifestyle.[18] The delay in getting the obesity social marketing campaign up and running has meant simple and clear messages on diet and lifestyle have not yet reached parents. Information gathered through the weighing and measuring of children in schools is not currently being passed on to parents unless specifically requested.

10. Successfully managing and losing weight is based on the simple principle of maintaining a healthy balance between the levels of energy taken in (calories consumed) to the levels of energy expended (exercise undertaken).[19] There is a wide range of factors from conception to age 11 that can contribute to obesity in children. These factors include family income, the conditions of the neighbourhoods where people live, the quality of schools and the lifestyle of parents.[20]

11. The strongest risk factor for child obesity is parental Body Mass Index score. For example, 47% of obese children under 11 come from families where both parents are obese or overweight and 25% come from families where one parent is obese or overweight (Figure 2).[21] Data also shows that obesity is more common amongst poorer communities and some ethnic groups.

12. The Committee's 2001 investigation into tackling obesity found that there was a considerable disparity in the opportunities for sport being offered by schools.[22] The Departments for Education and Skills and for Culture, Media and Sport nonetheless still do not measure differences in sport take up across different social groups and different neighbourhoods.[23]

Figure 2—Obesity prevalence among children 2-10 years, by parental BMI status

13. Since the summer of 2006, all school children in Reception and Year 6 are now weighed and measured.[24] It is still not clear, either from the hearing or the Departments' guidance, how local bodies, such as primary care trusts or schools, should use the data from this exercise to target resources and shape local strategies and programmes to where they are needed most.[25]

14. Although measuring every child will identify children whose health is at risk, the Departments had initially decided not to tell parents or children the results unless they asked for them, because of concerns raised by the Children's Commissioner and child health officials about potential stigmatisation and bullying in schools.[26] In light of concerns raised by the Committee that failing to tell parents that their child is dangerously overweight could lead to the risk of serious illness and possibly early death, the Departments are now considering how and when information on their child's weight can be offered to parents.[27]

15. In response to the Committee's concern for more information on the cost of weighing and measuring, the Department of Health estimated, in June 2006, that the total cost for all primary care trusts in England would be approximately £1.3 million in 2006-07.[28] This figure is based on the fact that three quarters of primary care trusts are already routinely recording height and weight at infant school entry.[29] The cost may be higher than this because of the risk, identified in the Comptroller and Auditor General's Report, of incompatibility between existing measurement methods and the methods set out in the Department's guidance published in January 2006.[30]

16. Following the hearing, the Departments now acknowledge the importance of involving parents, making them aware of the risks and causes of obesity and getting their support for programmes aimed at tackling the problem.[31]

18   Ev 19 Back

19   Q 21 Back

20   C&AG's Report, Tackling Obesity: First Steps, HC (2005-06) 801, para 1.6, page 26 Back

21   ibid Back

22   Committee of Public Accounts, Ninth Report of Session 2001-02, Department of Health: Tackling Obesity in England, HC 421, para 47 Back

23   Qq 129, 130 Back

24   Q 98 Back

25   Qq 110, 111, 141 Back

26   Qq 23, 104-111 Back

27   Qq 111, 143, 145; Ev 20 Back

28   Qq 104, 155, 156 Back

29   Ev 20 Back

30   C&AG's Report, Tackling Obesity: First Steps, HC (2005-06) 801, Box 4, point 4, page 18 Back

31   Qq 2, 112, Ev 20 Back

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