Anyone who’s had disordered eating knows how dangerous weighing kids in school is

There are plans to introduce it in schools this year


Content warning: Disordered eating, weighing, calories

Yesterday, a segment on Jeremy Vine asked whether schools should weigh pupils to “make sure” they lose any weight they may have gained over lockdown. As someone with a history of eating disorders, I know how dangerous this could be, and the thought of children having to go through this terrifies me.

My entire class was weighed in primary school, aged nine and 10. I remember two boys crying because the teacher wrote their weights on the whiteboard, saying they weighed “too much”. I then experienced disordered patterns and behaviours around food for years, including obsessively weighing myself.

No matter your size, being weighed in front of all your classmates is embarrassing, damaging and unnecessary. Who cares how much a nine-year-old weighs? Why do a child’s friends or teachers even need to know how much they weigh? It can lead to effects that last for years, including bullying, negative thoughts and even eating disorders.

The Tab spoke to students who know first-hand how dangerous these new plans could be, if they come into effect. This is what they had to say:

‘The horror stuck with me for years’

Zara

Zara, a final year Durham student, told The Tab she was weighed in primary school, and parents received a letter classifying their children as “underweight”, “healthy”, etc. Zara said: “The horror of seeing on paper that I was overweight stuck with me for years: At that age, I didn’t even know what a calorie was, let alone how many I should be eating or how many I should be burning. I ended up losing a lot of weight naturally as I went through puberty anyway, but that incident in school still really stuck with me. I always knew I was on the chunkier side, but it was the first time someone put numbers to it.”

Zara says a child’s weight may be addressed privately by their parents and doctors, but shouldn’t be something that is done in the classroom. Zara said: “If parents want to take their children to a doctor or a dietician privately, that’s up to them, but turning weight gain into a spectacle for the whole class is just wrong, and will no doubt make children much more self conscious than anyone that age should ever need to be.”

Zara also feels it’s unfair to target children who may have gained weight over the pandemic. She said: “Weight gain during lockdown is something that was pretty much inevitable – the gyms were closed, we weren’t out and about walking as much as usual. Adults will have gained weight too, it’s not a problem that’s specific to children, so I don’t see why it’s fair that we target them.”

‘As a child my weight was nobody’s business’

Laura

Coventry third year Laura told The Tab her school tried to weigh her, but her parents refused to sign the consent form, saying her weight didn’t matter so long as she was happy. Laura said: “They didn’t need to be told I was under or overweight because they knew I was healthy and didn’t want strangers telling me any different or getting into my head. They said they thought it was too unhealthy and as a child my weight was nobody’s business as long as I was happy and healthy.”

Laura believes this may make things worse for already vulnerable young people, giving them potential problems later in life. She said: “It’s awful, especially when body image is such a fragile thing that makes so many people vulnerable anyway. If it’s set into children’s brains from an early age they’ll struggle to be happy with their body later in life.”

‘It’ll create a generation of eating disorders’

Anna, a Master’s student at Cardiff, was bullied in school because of her weight. Her school regularly weighed pupils, giving the bullies something to use against her. Anna said it often felt like a competition in school for who could be the “lightest”. Anna said: “I remember being weighed in front of all my friends when I was nine years old, and it was a competition even then to see who was the lightest. I remember it kind of being a contest, and everyone would know your weight.

“For me I’d been bullied in school for my weight, so it was something that was used against me by the other kids. I felt competitive to be the thinnest girl in my class because to me, from what I understood, the most pretty girl was skinny, even if I wasn’t the prettiest visually. It just really stuck with me and I remember it and looking back now I just think it’s so messed up that it’s done so publicly in front of everyone.”

Anna believes the proposed plans will cause a “generation of eating disorders”, and instead more should be done to educate children on nutrition and healthy eating. Anna said: “Calorie counting and weighing does not accurately work towards the goal of a healthy eating child – it teaches them that health equals a number, which it doesn’t. We’d be much better off implementing lessons at a young age through to the teenage years of nutrition and what healthy eating is. I knew precious little about it even when I got to uni, someone who’d been to a dietician had to literally teach me. It needs to be something that isn’t just taught about once and forgotten about.”

Beat Eating Disorders is a charity who offer support services to anyone who may feel affected by this. They offer a helpline and web-chat service. You can access these services here.

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