NHS officials ban staff from calling kids obese

NHS officials have warned against calling children obese in front of their parents (Picture by Miran Rijavec)

NHS officials have been banned from using the word obese when speaking to children’s parents.

Guidance aimed at health, education and social-care professionals also warns the term “overweight” should be used with caution.

Bosses from the health improvement agency NHS Health Scotland suggest the phrase “unhealthy weight” is more appropriate.

Experts claim the agency risked “tiptoeing” around the issue of childhood obesity.

But the health body said research had revealed that the word obese made parents feel like they were being blamed for their children’s weight issues.

The guidance states: “When talking (to parents) about a child’s weight, never say ‘obese’ and use ‘overweight’ with caution and sensitivity. Best of all is ‘healthy weight’ or ‘unhealthy weight’.”

However, figures suggest one in three Scottish children aged 13-15 is overweight and one in 10 obese. Over one-fifth of primary pupils are overweight.

And Tam Fry, honorary chairman of the Child Growth Foundation charity criticised the guidelines. He said: “Just using the term overweight is pretty nebulous and doesn’t really convey the severity that the word obese conveys.

“By the time you get to school you are really going to have to be serious about a proper description for a state of weight which is definitely unhealthy. You need to be able to say to somebody: look, things have got so bad your child is obese.”

Last year the UK Public Health minister Anne Milton provoked controversy after saying health professionals should tell people they were fat rather than obese.

Fry added: “Obese is the one I would go for, because it is descriptive and it should bring people up with a shock.”

Mike Lean, professor of human nutrition at Glasgow University, acknowledged the word obese was sometimes “uncomfortable”.

But he said people should be better educated about weight issues.

He said: “I have tended to use the word overweight; that is my personal preference as it is less confrontational. But I think we have been tiptoeing around it to some degree and we need to be a bit clearer with people.

“Children are generally very sensitive to any criticism of their shape, size or form, so I can understand it is an area of sensitivity.

“But if you ignore it, which is what has been happening up until now, and just keep providing them with bigger and bigger waistbands in their trousers, you have done nobody a service. So I think it is something health professionals and others have to face up to.”

Dr David Haslam, a GP who is chair of the National Obesity Forum, said: “Some people need to be told they are clinically obese or morbidly obese and that leads to diabetes, heart disease and so on.

“However you bring the subject up, you have to lace it with support.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Health Scotland said research had shown the term overweight and obese could result in parents feeling “blamed or stigmatised”, and were “too medical”.

She said: “The advice in the resource is up-to-date and continues to be informed by professionals.”