Teachers need to be 'proactive' on obesity


AN OBESITY expert says teachers have a duty to identify obese pupils and inform parents that their children are overweight.

Prof Niall Moyna, of DCU's school of health and human performance, said primary school teachers should regularly record pupils' weight, height and body mass index (BMI). He said the parents of children who did not fall within the normal BMI range should be alerted urgently.

"I would like to see teachers being more proactive," Prof Moyna said. "I think it's important that primary teachers stand up and be prepared to measure this on a regular basis. It's something that could be incorporated into PE [physical education] or biology lessons and would only take 30 seconds.

"If a child smokes we've no problem saying something. We've no problem labelling a child with elevated blood pressure or elevated cholesterol.

"Obviously this would have to be broached very sensitively with the child, but obesity is a risk factor for acute problems like type 2 diabetes, reproductive disorders and gallstones. Let's identify the risk."

Prof Moyna said there was a "duty of care" when it came to childhood obesity. However, the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) said asking its members to pass on this type of information to parents "could drastically change the rules of engagement between parents and teachers".

General secretary John Carr said teachers shared Prof Moyna's concerns about rising obesity levels, but his proposal would involve "serious workload implications".

Mr Carr said teachers provided physical education insofar as they could and schools had healthy eating policies to support parents in providing nutritious food.

"The tracking of weight and height to calculate BMI should be a function of the health service, in the same way as they check hearing, eyesight and children's teeth.

"They follow up with parents if there are issues there. In the same way they should follow up if there are issues with BMI."

Meanwhile, another prominent academic disagreed with Prof Moyna's proposal.

Prof Mary O'Sullivan, professor of physical education and youth sport at the University of Limerick, said young people's height and weight fluctuated considerably in the pre-pubescent years.

"I would be very concerned at the any effort to systematically label young students as overweight and obese as part of a school curriculum. Such labelling has huge potential to stigmatise children at a very vulnerable part of their lives and could stay with them for some time."

Prof O'Sullivan said she understood that Prof Moyna's motivation was to intervene with overweight children at an early age to prevent illnesses in adulthood.

"You have to look at the cost-benefit analysis of such strategy. I think that labelling all students in such a way at a young age is not helpful."