A pilot study to examine school-based aspects of the BMI surveillance programme in NE England

Janet Shucksmith, Rachel Colls, Rebekah McNaughton, Louisa Ells, John R. Wilkinson

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This report describes research on the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP), a national surveillance programme for measuring children’s body mass index (BMI), as part of broader UK public health initiatives to halt the current rise in childhood obesity. The programme was implemented in response to the 2004 Public Service Agreement (PSA) target to halt the year on year rise in obesity amongst children under 11 in England by 2010. All Primary Care Trusts (PCT) in England are now required to measure the height and weight of reception children (aged 4-5) and year 6 children (aged 10-11) in order to inform local planning and targeting of resources and interventions and to enable tracking of local progress against the PSA target (Department of Health 2006).
The research, based in North East England, was carried out in two phases. The first phase involved audit of all independent and special needs schools within the North East Strategic Health Authority. Telephone interviews with these schools in February/March 2007 established rates of compliance with and experiences of the programme. Phase two involved a qualitative study in two schools from one PCT. Interviews, discussion groups and observation were used to explore the experiences of teachers, parents and children involved in the programme.
Findings from the audit show minimal participation by special or independent schools. Special schools present a number of reasons for being wary of inclusion in the measurement scheme, from small cohort sizes leading to fears that children will be singled out or labelled, to concerns about children’s mental stability. The case for non inclusion of independent schools seems to rest on the fact that PCTs do not usually have existing relationships with them. Independent schools would agree to be included if resources were provided to carry out the exercise but are unlikely to do so unless participation is made compulsory. Qualitative findings from the project highlight issues such as multiple misunderstandings of the programme by different individuals, the difficulties children had with interpreting metric measures of height and weight, children sharing measurements with each other and understandings of body size. The school is also examined as a setting for BMI measurement. with a discussion of the ways in which responsibility for children’s health is placed with different individuals, the role of children’s competence and right to consent to measurement and the role of schools as sites for health promotion, screening and surveillance.
The report concludes with a number of recommendations for future rounds of the programme, such as the inclusion of independent schools in the programme, the continued exemption of special needs schools, the provision of clearer information for teachers, parents and children concerning the purpose of the measurement programme, and the need to incorporate the programme into wider health initiatives in school in order to facilitate children’s participation and prevent distress regarding measurement of body size and weight.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherTeesside University
Number of pages45
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2007


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