It’s size that matters, not what’s written on the hanger

The average 11-year-old’s waistline has grown 10cm in the past three decades, and in response, major UK retailers – many operating in Ireland – are changing their clothes’ sizing and labelling


There was a time when children were expected to grow into their clothes – whether they were hand-me-downs or bought in a larger size in order to make them last longer. But today’s children are having such trouble fitting into clothes designed for their age bracket that manufacturers have taken the bull by the horns and increased the girth and length of the average size.

Some 35 years ago, the average 11-year-old girl had a 60cm waistline. Her modern counterpart’s average comes in at 70cm – that’s a whopping 10cm difference. And the boys don’t fare much better with a 9cm leap from 61cm to 70cm.

But despite the alarming rise in childhood obesity, retailers in the UK and Ireland have addressed the issue by changing the sizing on children’s clothes and increasing the length and width to coincide with our children getting larger.

Buyers beware
Six clothes retailers, including Marks & Spencer, Next, Monsoon and Tesco, are planning to use sizing guidelines devised by Shape GB which means Irish shoppers need to be aware of the change when they next buy clothes for their children.

A spokesperson for Marks & Spencer says the new sizing is a necessary step to keep in line with the changing shape of modern children.

“M&S have been pioneers in the field of sizing research since the 1950s and much of the data collected by the company has been used by the British Standards Institute to form industry standards,” the spokesperson said.

“The four privately commissioned sizing surveys conducted in the late 1990s by M&S involved using 3D body scanners, measuring over 10,000 men, women and children. These led on to the first National Sizing Survey on 11,000 men and women in 2001 involving M&S and 16 other retailers.”

Charmaine Simpson, spokesperson for Debenhams said: “Debenhams carries out independent research to ensure we are in line with the sizing requirements on the high street.”

Big welcome
Mother-of-two Ann Marie Hehir from Galway welcomes the new sizing guidelines and says that although she feeds her children a healthy diet; they have always struggled to fit into clothes aimed at their age range, so she is looking forward to buying clothes that fit.

“I have a 10-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son, and I have always had to buy clothes which are aimed at children a year or two older than them,” she says.

“Both my husband and I are of a big build so it was natural that our kids would be too, but while my son likes wearing clothes for children the same age as his sister, she really hates wearing 12-year-old clothes. In fact, in recent weeks, I have caught her trying to cut off the labels, so it will be nice for her to fit into things for a change.

“I know people will say that we should be making children smaller instead of making clothes bigger to fit them, but this is the way the world is going, so it is a bit silly to keep pretending the average child is the same size as they were 30 years ago. I for one will make a point of shopping in the stores which stock the modern clothes sizes.”

But Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, director of human health and nutrition at Safefood, says that, although manufacturers are simply addressing a need from their customers, the fact that our children are getting larger is not something we can afford to ignore by simply buying bigger clothes.

“Firstly, the clothes industry are in the business of selling clothes to their customers and they have clearly got feedback that today’s children need bigger clothes than children of the same age did in previous years, so it would be nonsensical for a business not to meet that demand,” she says.

“However, this is stark proof and another indicator that shows children’s sizes are increasing. We also have to realise that we’ve gone from a position of under-nutrition in the 1950s and 1960s to adequate nutrition in the 1970s and 1980s to overweight and obesity in the 1990s through to today. This is causing significant health problems, both for adults and children.

“As a society, we seem to attach a stigma to the overweight child, and even a criticism of the parenting they have received. We need to remove this stigma. As parents, we are comfortable with the need for health maintenance in other areas of children’s development, for example, their eyes, teeth and their self-confidence, we should also view body weight in a similar way – as a measure of their development progress that needs to be monitored and maintained within healthy parameters. We don’t recognise that our children are heavier because it’s the norm now.”

Dr Foley-Nolan says in order to stop this problem from getting out of control, parents need to make some simple changes to their family diet.

“We need to recognise our own weight status and that of our children – over half of parents of overweight primary-school children thought their children’s weight was ‘about right for their height’, and this represents a major barrier to making any future changes to our lifestyle,” she says. “We also need to accept that it took 10 or 20 years to reach this stage and that it won’t be solved by simply changing labels on clothes.

She says that as parents we’re simply giving the wrong foods to children. There are a variety of tried and tested routes to healthy eating, such as offering a varied diet, not forcing children to finish all their food, more fruit and vegetables, less processed foods, and so on.

“While these tips may sound very ordinary, there’s lots of evidence to say they work so we need to start getting these messages through.”

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