Question John Education

Schools' responsibility for childhood obesity

What are schools’ responsibilities towards health issues such as childhood obesity?

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Answer Expert #26888

Recent data indicates that in the past decade, some 1.7 million children who were overweight or obese began secondary school; that there is a serious health issue is not in doubt, but what responsibility do schools have towards addressing weight (Times Educational Supplement, 2016)? The UK government’s 2016 childhood obesity strategy notes the complexity of the issue, as well as the ways it intersects with social class, poverty, genetic elements and other factors (Department of Health, 2016). The strategy proposes a range of actions, including taxes on sugar, initiatives to clarify food labelling, and calls to improve sports and exercise provision in schools (Department of Health, 2016). However, charities which focus on both obesity as an issue and on specific disease-related conditions such as cancer argue that the proposals by themselves are insufficient, and that multi-agency approaches are required (Times Educational Supplement, 2016). Though there are roles to play for parents and carers, UK government and local authorities, and private industry, there are ways in which schools may contribute towards combatting childhood obesity (Sport and Exercise Scientist, 2011). Measures which schools might consider include a more robust approach to games and activities provision, better management of catering provision, more active and less sedentary lesson activities, and guided tutorial work on the topic area of health and obesity (Mutrie, 2011). However, schools and individual educators must work to balance a complex set of public and individual health messages with tact and sensitivity, as well as working to uphold children’s autonomy, identities and decision-making skills, in ways that will not stigmatise or cause unintended consequences such as bullying from peers (Hills, King, and Byrne, 2007).

References

Department of Health (2016) Childhood obesity: A plan for action. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/childhood-obesity-a-plan-for-action (Accessed: 11 October 2016).
Hills, A.P., King, N.A. and Byrne, N.M. (eds.) (2007) Children, obesity and exercise: prevention, treatment and management of childhood and adolescent obesity, Vol. 1. London: Taylor & Francis.
Mutrie, J. (2011) Schools. Available at: http://www.bases.org.uk/write/documents/pages6-7.pdf (Accessed: 11 October 2016).
Sport and Exercise Scientist (2011) ‘Tackling childhood obesity’, Sport and Exercise Scientist, (27), pp. 6–7.
Times Educational Supplement (2016) Health alert as more than 1.6m pupils in a decade start secondary school overweight. Available at: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/health-alert-16m-pupils-start-secondary-school-overweight (Accessed: 11 October 2016).