Rising rates of obesity among children have become one of the most pressing issues in modern public health. Childhood obesity threatens both the mental and physical well-being of children. Attempts to halt the rise in obesity take many forms, but one of them is the recent implementation of a programme of measurement of primary children at reception and in year 6, with results being fed back to parents. This National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) is controversial and has been criticised in some quarters as unethical, in being a form of screening programme with no clear or effective interventions available for those detected as having a problem. Study aims and objectives The main aim of the study was to explore the relationship between weight status and children’s mental wellbeing, especially in the context of the NCMP. Within this overall aim, key specific objectives of the study were: i) to investigate the association between weight status of 10-11 year old school children and their mental well-being; ii) to assess the impact on the mental wellbeing of children, of participating in the NCMP; and iii) to collect information about parents’/guardians’ and children’s reaction to the NCMP, with particular interest in identifying whether parents/guardians and their children found the feedback useful in moving towards the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. Methods The study was undertaken in primary schools in the catchment area of Gateshead Primary Care Trust (PCT). The overall study used a mixed methods study design. The study involved administering a questionnaire prior to NCMP measurement to a total sample of 264 children, sampled using a proportionate stratified random sampling technique. One-to-one semi-structured interviews were also conducted post measurement with 21 children purposively sub-sampled from the larger group, and with 16 parents/guardians. Results Prior to measurement, most children misclassified their weight status. About 1 in 10 children who were of ideal weight perceived themselves as overweight. Over three quarters of overweight children perceived themselves to be of ideal weight. There was no significant relationship between any of the indicators of mental wellbeing and actual weight status of children. However, there was very strong evidence for a Preface xxv significant relationship between perceived weight status and mental wellbeing among children. Seven major themes emerged from the post measurement interview data, but perhaps the most intriguing was the cycle of emotional reaction of families to the NCMP and weight feedback. Discussion The reactions of parents/guardians whose children are indicated to have weight problems follow a sequence of behaviours ranging from shock, disgust with the programme, through denial and self-blame to acceptance, worry and help seeking. Reasons for these responses relate in many cases to the way the weight problem is portrayed to the parents. While health authorities are keen to portray this problem as a medical one, parents/guardians see it as social one. The roots of overeating and lack of exercise are seen as lying in the complex social and cultural milieu in which this sample of people live. Consequently, associating this problem in feedback letters with dangerous diseases like cancer, and advising parents to visit GPs to resolve child weight issues, seems inappropriate to the recipients and causes controversy and anger. Conclusion The NCMP’s routine feedback could potentially induce families into the state of readiness to change lifestyle behaviours; however, given the reactions described in this study, it seems critical to avoid placing blame on individuals but rather to acknowledge the influence of the environment surrounding families and to provide non-medical support aimed at bringing families on board to support interventions for combating child weight problems.
|Date of Award||22 Nov 2012|
|Supervisor||Janet Shucksmith (Supervisor) & Carolyn Summerbell (Supervisor)|