OBESITY levels in the UK are on the rise, according to NHS figures. Worryingly, about a quarter of people in the UK are classed as obese, many of them children, prompting fears of “silent killers” diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
The statistics are based on calculations of Body Mass Index, or BMI, which are used to check if people are a healthy weight for their height.
BMI is used to classify people as underweight, ideal weight, obese or very obese.
But some experts have labelled the system inaccurate, as the measure takes no account of age, sex, race, fitness, or how body fat is distributed.
The NHS’s own website warns that BMI doesn’t work for everyone. “It’s not suitable for young children or older people,” the site reads.
“It’s also not very useful if you’re have a high muscle bulk.
“The heavier muscles will push up your BMI measurement.”
Last week, a North East mum was furious after her five-year-old was labelled “overweight” by an NHS measurement programme based on BMI results.
Beth Coates, of Dudley, near Cramlington, claimed BMI was inaccurate for the changing bodies of under-12s, and rubbished figures that placed her son Antonio in the top one per cent of obese children.
Antonio was weighed and measured with classmates at Greenfields Primary School in Wide Open, North Tyneside.
It was part of the NHS’s National Child Measurement Programme, which checks children across the country to monitor rising obesity levels.
At 3st 10lb he fell into the overweight categories.
His mother said she feared it could prompt worried parents into starting children on unhealthy and draconian diets.
Ms Coates said: “If wasn’t strong in myself I might start to think I was doing something wrong and start to deny Antonio food. It could give children serious eating disorders. I don’t want Antonio growing up thinking he is obese when he is not.”
Athletes also often experience problems with BMI, with heavily-muscled frames pushing them into the obese category despite being at the peak of physical fitness. Rugby players in particular are likely to tip the scales at a supposedly unhealthy weight.
But Dr Ashley Adamson, a senior lecturer at the Human Nutrition Research Centre at Newcastle University, warned that our perceptions of what “overweight” means has changed. And while athletes were an extreme case, she said that BMI was still an accurate and reliable measure for the majority of people.
“We did a study of 500 children in the North East, using four of the most sophisticated measures of body fat, and we found that it tallied very well with the simple BMI scores,” Dr Adamson said.
“Parents read the statistics about childhood obesity and say they don’t see that in the playground.
“But scientists have measured them, and 69% of children are overweight or obese. Our perceptions of what ‘fat’ looks like have shifted.”
She added: “What we need is more support for parents. Many don’t have an accurate image of what weight children should be.
“Many think that if their child is in the correct age of clothes, they are a healthy weight – they do not realise sizes have increased over the years as well.
“We need more positive messages about healthy lifestyles, with healthy diets and physical activity.”