M&S to sell 'over-size' uniforms for overweight school pupils
THE UK's growing problem of childhood obesity has hit the high street, after clothing giant Marks & Spencer has started selling school uniforms for out-sized pupils.
An online trial of its new Plus schoolwear range caters for four-year-olds with waistlines of up to 23ins - a size usually worn by eight-year-olds, according to the retailer's own guide.
Campaigners said the move by M&S was simply commercial recognition of what they had known for some time - that obesity is a growing problem among pre-schoolers and younger pupils.
The Plus range has been introduced as part of a trial prompted by demand from parents, M&S said.
It caters for ages three to 16. Trouser and skirt sizes go up to a 41-inch waist.
However, it is likely that the large sizes for primary school entrants that will cause most concern, amid fears Britain is facing an obesity timebomb with a generation dogged by weight-related conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said: "This is the actual commercial recognition of what we have known for some time - that obesity in pre-schoolers is building up.
"Now 27 per cent of entrants to primary schools are overweight or obese."
There are four items available in the super-size category - boys' pleated trousers and girls' bootleg trousers in black and grey, and a 'classic fit' blazer in black for both sexes.
There is no difference in price between the large and normal ranges, with larger pleated trousers aimed at younger boys cost 7, as do the same style of normal-fit trousers for children of the same age.
The measurements of the largest schoolgirl clothes come in at a 43in chest, 36in waist and 46in hips - the equivalent of a women's size 18.
The chain introduced the Plus range earlier this month with little fanfare. A spokesman for Marks & Spencer said: "It is a small online trial running in response to customer demand.
"Marks & Spencer is the leading schoolwear retailer and we want to make sure our schoolwear range is accessible for children of all shapes and sizes."
Dietician Carrie Ruxton said that the obesity trend among primary school pupils had plateauxed and hoped that the clothes range would be short-lived. She said: "There has been a flattening off in the obesity rise among younger children, but senior school children are getting fatter."
"If there is a need for this line and children are not fitting their clothes, then there's no point in making them feel bad.
"This is a societal problem; parents need to get their children out playing more often and encourage them to be fit and active and to eat less sweets and fizzy drinks.
"There's no point criticising Marks & Spencer for responding to a trend because the parents, teachers, families and shopkeepers have actually helped to create in the first place."
Sammy Margo, spokesperson for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, which has voiced serious concerns about impact of childhood obesity, acknowledged that in producing outsized clothes, Marks & Spencer could be inadvertently normalising the situation, describing the situation as "grave concern".
But she added: "I wouldn't call what they (Marks & Spencer] are doing as 'encouraging' this sort of behaviour, but we really want to be discouraging children from being out-sized. The concern we have is if they are out-sized at this age then as adults they're going to have immense health problems."
'Out-size will become the norm'
IT IS difficult to fault Marks & Spencers for producing a line of out-size clothing for children, as it is only correct that as a children's outfitters that they respond to a demand that exists.
What horrifies me, however, is that there was ever a need in the first place.
Certainly, it can be quite a struggle for parents to keep their children in shape, and though two-thirds manage to succeed in keeping their children a healthy weight; for one third their children are overweight by the time they reach school.
This makes it doubly awful for children to go to school in clothes that do not fit - they look awful, which means they have low self-esteem, a problem which is compounded if children start to tease and bully them over their weight. One salient point that has been made about designing out-sized clothes for children is that, in a sense, it could be seen as the 'thin end of the wedge' and that some parents may look at this clothing line and think they needn't bother get clothes to fit, when what they should be saying is that there is a correct weight and size for children and that is what they should be keeping to.
I do think that out-size for children will become the norm and it is the children who will suffer. They will eventually hit the crunch point where fatness begins to give way to illness.
l Tam Fry is a board member of the National Obesity Forum and honorary chairman of the Child Growth Foundation.
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