School Weigh In


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We expect our schools to measure numeracy and literacy but now add obesity.

Campbelltown Primary has become the first school to introduce a controversial new school program to fight childhood obesity.

Some parents are outraged the weigh-in strategy will do more damage than good but Principal David Lawton says it's getting results.

"Obesity is not okay for children's futures and we have a responsibility to address that... we weigh our students and we do it as part of our way of monitoring our efforts to address obesity in the school," says David.

David says he was surprised every single parent agreed to the routine weigh-ins� once they knew it was going to be done the right way.

"If children knew that their weight was going to be recorded I think you'd have a hard time getting them on the scales but you do it sensitively in a way that is anonymous and doesn't identify them, they feel safe and it enables us to do it," adds David.

Add a whole range of fitness programs from the fun to the full on, and not only the kilos are being shed, now 75 percent of all students are involved in sports and parents often come along to train side by side with their kids.

So how do they get them so motivated?

"�getting kids to want to exercise can be a hard thing to do however, if it's part of their life, if it's what they do everyday then it's actually quite easy to do and it's quite easy to build on that," says David.

Now the State Government wants a similar scheme to operate in all schools.

When Health Minister John Hill recently returned from France, he brought with him the blueprint for a program which has seen obesity levels drop by nearly 15 percent.

And he also brought back a controversial doctor by the name of Dr Jean Michel Borys. Dr Borys is the founder of the so-called "epode" program, which deals with getting the whole community behind children's weight loss, from sporting clubs to nutritionists, parents and teachers alike.

"It's a not for profit program which is supported right across France. A hundred or so communities, the conservative side of politics, the left side of politics, the middle part of politics all supported this in France� it's now moving across other parts of Europe," says Mr Hill.

And so enter the 16 million dollar radical plan called "eat well be active."

"Our strategy is to work with parents, work with families, we've got to be sensitive about this, we don't want to do it in a way that makes children feel uncomfortable and damages their self esteem," says Mr Hill.

Primary school kids are also compulsorily weighed and their eating habits monitored but the burning question according to the opposition is, who gets this sensitive information?

Shadow Education spokesman David Pisoni claims "epode" is in fact sponsored by a range of multi-national food companies like the chocolate giant Nestle.

"My research has shown that Nestle, the French sugar industry and pharmaceutical companies and artificial sweetener companies sponsored the establishment of the "epode" program," says David.

As for the good doctor Borys?

"He is a director of an advertising company called Protens whose clients include Mc Donalds, Coca Cola, Ferrero which is the Nutella product which your viewers will recall was famous or infamous I suppose for running about the healthy aspects of a chocolate spread," adds Tony.

He even wrote a brochure for the brewers of Europe about how good beer is for you.

"One of the key points that brochure states was an advantage that the reason why you should drink beer is that beer is 93% water, it's healthy and it's a great way of drinking water is to drink beer," says Tony.

But John Hill tells us "let me tell you, Dr Borys is a Medical Doctor who works as a GP. He specialised in communities where there is a high level of poverty and he's seen a high incidence of cardio vascular disease. He wanted to do something to reduce the incidence of that.

And regarding the concerns that Nestle were involved in part?

"Well I met with them when I went to look at this program. They introduced me to Nestle upfront and said look this is controversial in our country in France but we think it's important to engage those who sell food to the community. We think they should be part of the solution," says Hill.

The Health Minister insists there will be no outside funding from food companies for the localised version of "epode". In fact he's not even sure if South Aussie kids will be weighed.

"We haven't yet made up our mind though the Liberals have and they argued before the last election that if they were elected all of that info would be in a child's report card. Well I think that goes too far," says John Hill.

Child psychologist Rita Princi says when it comes to weighing children and weight loss in general, we have to tread very carefully.

"I think it's a complex matter not just about to weigh or not to weigh but looking at what are we trying to achieve here and if we're trying to achieve that our children are fit and healthy and taking into account individual differences and understanding developmentally where children are at�

A study in the U.S. unfortunately found that sometimes parents don't know what to do about it when their children are overweight and there was a study that looked at children being overweight and they were being weighed at school and that info was given back to parents and then the parents either put their children on diets or skip meals or put them on dietary supplements and that's not the outcome that we want to have," says Rita.

At 10 percent under the national average for obesity levels, Campbelltown Primary is proof you can get everyone involved to tackle this thorny issue and have fun at the same time.