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Child obesity letters toned down

School nurses and health experts are being urged to tone down the way they tell parents their children are overweight.

NHS guidance to back a national weigh-in programme for schoolchildren says letters to parents should be "non-judgmental and positively phrased".

New template letters have been issued to local authorities ahead of the programme's start in September, watering down the language used to describe the effects of being overweight.

The letters, which detail height and weight, have been "revised" from last year following feedback from experts and parents. While wording can be changed to meet local needs, the guidance says it "is important to consider that parents receiving the letter may be sensitive to the information and feel that their parenting skills are being criticised". It adds: "As such, as far as possible the letters should be non-judgmental and positively phrased."

The letters are signed by school nurses and include website addresses and a phone number so parents can access free advice and support.

The National Child Measurement Programme, overseen by Public Health England, is "fundamental to efforts to tackle childhood obesity in England", according to the guidance. It details how children should be weighed and measured in schools, with the results fed into national anonymised data.

The letters telling parents their child is overweight or very overweight have undergone a series of changes compared to letters sent out last year. In the very overweight letter, parents are no longer told: "Your child's result is in the very overweight range. Doctors call this clinically obese." While parents are told their children could face health problems in later life, the letter no longer says youngsters face "heart disease and some types of cancer".

In the overweight letter, two sentences have been removed which say: "You might be surprised your child's result is in the overweight range. It can sometimes be difficult to tell if your child is overweight as they may look similar to other children of their age, but more children are overweight than ever before."

Previously, letters have included reference to the pupil's body mass index (BMI), prompting some parents to complain their slim child has been labelled overweight. The new letters omit direct reference to the pupil's BMI, though parents are directed to a website measuring BMI should they choose to have a look.

Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, described the letters home as "awful". He said caring nurses in some parts of the country had scrapped them in favour of "sensitively discussing" weight with parents. Dr Ann Hoskins, Public Health England's director of children, young people and families, said: "We listen to all feedback to ensure we tailor our materials accordingly so they can be put to best use. The template letters have been reviewed annually since the programme began."

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