28 May, 2016

Failing to come with a holistic solution – obesity and mental health

activematters opinion | May 2016

Key points

  • Both obesity and common mental health disorders account for a significant proportion of the global burden of disease
  • There are bi-directional associations between mental health problems and obesity, with levels of obesity, gender, age and socioeconomic status being key risk factors
  • There is strong evidence to suggest an association between obesity and poor mental health in children and adults. This evidence is currently weaker for younger children
  • The relationships between actual body weight, self-perception of weight and weight stigmatisation are complex and this varies across cultures, age and ethnic groups
  • The perception of being obese appears to be more predictive of mental disorders than actual obesity in children
  • Weight stigma increases vulnerability to depression, low self-esteem, poor body image, maladaptive eating behaviours and exercise avoidance
  • Intervention strategies should consider both the physical and mental health of children. This awareness could lead to prevention, early detection, and co-treatment of children at risk, ultimately reducing the burden of both conditions
  • There is an urgent need for evaluations of weight management interventions, both in terms of weight loss and psychological benefits
However in the current context and as an illustrative example: Autism is only now becoming part of core teacher training.

Teachers will be trained to support children with autism for the first time following months of campaigning from charities, parents and MPs. However – this training will not be mandatory – and as many teachers have little or no SEN experience – they may remain woefully adrift in their daily practice.

Campaigners have said that with more than one in 100 children on the autism spectrum and over 70 per cent of them entering mainstream schools each year – every teacher will have these children in their classes at some point. The incidence of obesity is significantly higher and rising – yet there is no corresponding strategy to address this – why?

When we have clear evidence of the mental health issues caused by obesity – surely this should be taken into account – and provision made for all those working with children (in whatever capacity) to be well trained and prepared to manage and support the children affected.

Children ‘denied mental health support’

A total of 28% of children referred for mental health support in England in 2015 were sent away without help, some after a suicide attempt, a report says.

The Children’s Commissioner’s review of mental health services also found that 13% with life-threatening conditions were not allowed specialist support.

This group included children who had attempted serious self-harm and those with psychosis and anorexia nervosa.

One trust in North-West England said it focused resources on the most severe cases.

There have been concerns in recent years about the patchy nature of services offered by child and adolescent mental health trusts (CAMHs), with many seemingly unable to cope with local demand.

School teachers and Heads in some areas have highlighted the growing incidence of mental health need amongst pupils that are having to be met within schools themselves.

The review, by commissioner Anne Longfield, aimed to highlight local weaknesses so provision may be improved and more young people’s needs met


activematters believes that Obesity should become an SEN issue in the near future.

Where does it sit at present – under safeguarding perhaps? Does anyone actually know?

Overweight/obese children will undoubtedly experience some form of mental health issue – including  low self-esteem – self harming – isolation.

Therefore, the question activematters is asking is:

If Nicky Morgan is truly ‘passionate’ about provision for autistic children – then she needs to review her remit urgently – and make some clear decisions as to who is going to manage the mental health of those who are overweight/obese – which in terms of scale and prevalence is significantly higher than those living on the Autism spectrum.