Why are the anti-obesity politics of the United Kingdom so compelling? For starters, it is a big and English-speaking place. The U.K. and the U.S. used to be close relatives. We share innumerable cultural touchpoints, and even aspirations, although the political mechanisms for achieving those hopes are not the same.
One important difference is that in the U.K., taxes pay for everyone’s healthcare. Another is that in the USA, the whole childhood obesity issue seems to have faded into the background now that Michelle Obama no longer is first lady. But in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the debate rages on, day and night.
Schools are a locus of conflict, and they too are different in the U.K., which has a complicated system where each of the four member countries runs things its own way. In England and Wales, a “public school” is what Americans would call a private school, expensive and exclusive. What and how their students eat is for the school administration to decide.
School is very important because it can control both halves of the energy balance paradigm — caloric intake and physical activity. Here, we are only talking about state schools, the tax-funded system where most of the kids are educated. The Daily Mail described the current regime:
Children in state schools in England have weight and height measured in reception year, aged four to five, and year 6, aged 10 to 11… Wales only measures reception children, with 14.5% found to be overweight and a further 11.7% obese. Scotland records weight and height in first year of primary when 12% of children are at risk of being overweight and 10% at risk of being obese.
Childhood Obesity News talked about the Daily Mile, and there is also the Daily Toddle for little kids. It basically prescribes 10 to 15 minutes a day of walking in the fresh air, which is not a lot, considering that historically, even the smallest rural children spent hours per day walking outside. Urban children had their struggles too, like dodging traffic on the walk to school, and living on the fifth floor with no elevators.
A typical example is the English borough of Rochdale, where the children’s centers of the various townships promote the Daily Toddle movement with vigorous public relations efforts. They distribute “Healthy Hero” stickers, sponsor events where the attractions include grownups costumed as cartoon heroes, and offer other enticements.
By the end of primary school, one child in five is obese. In the spring, some government officials visited Amsterdam, which apparently has cut child obesity by 12% in the years between 2012 and 2015. Among the lowest economic group, this number was 18%.
The British officials went home wanting to change things, starting with asking Ofsted to monitor the health and fitness of public school students. This is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, which is in charge of inspecting and regulating services that provide care for kids and education for all ages.
To give the authorities something to measure, state schools would allegedly receive “intensive and funded support” including free gym classes and home visits. Opponents to letting Ofsted in are afraid that the promised logistic support would not materialize, causing teachers and schools to be harshly judged for outcomes they have no control over. Some teachers feel that they are expected to solve vast, pervasive social and economic problems whose causes are far outside their purview.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Bigger than the US: More 11-year-olds in England are now obese than in the United States,” DailyMail.co.uk, 05/21/18
Source: “Toddlers step up to daily walking challenge,” RochdaleiOnline.co, 01/29/18
Source: “Schools could be forced to ‘weigh and measure’ kids — and would be monitored by Ofsted,” Mirror.co.uk, 05/03/18
Photo via Visualhunt