SCHOOLS SHOULD tackle obesity by issuing permits limiting the number of parents who drive their children to school, a senior health official has recommended.
Tim Crayford, president of the Association of the Directors of Public Health, said that teachers needed to take tougher action to combat the growing number of overweight pupils.
He recommended banning pupils from leaving school premises during their lunch break, to prevent them buying junk food, and the introduction of permit schemes for parents who did the school run by car.
Dr Crayford did not specify what criteria would be used for allocating the permits, though it might include the distance the child needed to travel.
Speaking last week to the audience at the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange, he said: "Teachers should appreciate their role in the future health of children a little more than they do at present."
Dr Crayford also called for tighter guidelines on the PSHE and PE curricula, so they did more to promote healthy lifestyles and taught pupils skills such as how to read food labels and manage their nutrition.
"Schools actually have an incredible amount of discretion about what they teach in these subjects," he said. "The rates of obesity in children have doubled over the past decade. What we need is a complete culture change."
In Derby next month, a thousand primary and secondary school pupils are to be fitted with motion sensors worth pound;300 each as part of a scheme that will provide researchers with better data about children's exercise and encourage kids to be more active.
Professor Jim McKenna of Leeds Metropolitan university, who is overseeing the council-funded trial, said the inch-square sensors had been designed to monitor the movements of aircraft wings in wind tunnels.
"They're very sensitive and can record movements every two seconds, giving us a fantastically detailed picture of a child's activity," he said.
But Dr Crayford was sceptical about the effectiveness of gadgets such as pedometers. "Technology companies will claim they have the answer. I'm not convinced," he said.
Since last year, all children in reception and Year 6 have been weighed and measured under a government scheme to tackle obesity.
But a team of academics, led by York university, have criticised the initiative, claiming there is no evidence that screening programmes work and asking why children identified as overweight are not being offered treatment.
* 'Childhood Obesity: Should Primary Schoolchildren be Routinely Screened?'
is published in this month's 'Disease in Childhood' journal.
EAT THOSE WORDS
Fat pupils are being unfairly stereotyped in children's books that portray podgy characters as spoilt, greedy, mean and unpopular, according to research.
Figures such as Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter series have been blamed for "demonising" the overweight. "Dudley is a fat little rotter and his fatness is presented as a moral failing," said Professor Jean Webb, of Worcester university's children's literature research centre.
In a new paper, she calls for more balance in the way fat pupils are represented. "It's a delicate area and you must not marginalise particular groups," she told The TES.
While novels such as Catherine Forde's Fat Boy Swim and Chris Crutcher's Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes depict obesity as a complex issue, generally characters only became popular and successful when they lose weight.
Professor Webb cites the example of Stanley Yelnats from Louis Sachar's Holes.
Perhaps the most reviled overweight character in children's literature is Billy Bunter, the cake-loving anti-hero of Frank Richards' Greyfriars school stories.
Louise Burfitt-Dons, director of charity Act Against Bullying, called for a more measured approach. "It would be nice to see stories that lead people to see the individuality in one another rather than the stereotypes," she said.