Parents of obese UK kids may get warning letters

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Parents of severely overweight children in Britain could be sent letters warning them about the health dangers of obesity, the government said on Monday.

Letters could be sent after children are routinely weighed at primary school at the ages of five and 10.

But while ministers say more action is needed to reduce obesity, critics fear the letters would stigmatize children.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said last week that obesity in Britain could lead to a “potential crisis on the scale of climate change.”

A government study this month predicted that half the population could be obese within 25 years.

The warning letters are one of several proposals being considered by ministers, although no final decision has been taken, according to the Department of Health.

“We have been clear that we need to work harder to cut the rising levels of obesity in children,” it said. “Tackling child obesity is a government priority and the weighing and measuring program is an important element of this.

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, a health charity, said the letters would help the many parents who are unaware that their children are overweight.

“There’s a lot of literature now which says that parents do not recognize the fatness or the weight of their children,” he told BBC radio.

But childhood obesity expert Dr Terry Dovey, of Staffordshire University, said that singling out individual children would not help.

“If you highlight the issue in a negative way, all you are doing is stigmatizing the child,” he told the Today program.

The number of obese boys aged between two and 15 rose to 19 percent in 2005, compared to just under 11 percent in 1995.

During the same period, the figure for girls rose to 18.1 percent from 12 percent, according to government statistics.

Obesity causes 9,000 premature deaths each year in England and costs the National Health Service about one 1 billion pounds ($2.04 billion).

Obese people are more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers and their life expectancy is cut by an average of nine years, the government says.

In a speech last week, Johnson said rising obesity was “a consequence of abundance, convenience and underlying biology.”

He said people were getting fatter because modern lifestyles are more sedentary, calorie-rich foods are widely available and people are walking less.