Why schools should start ‘going large’ with their furniture orders
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The future is looking fat, according to new NHS figures which reveal that obesity is rising among children both in their first and last years at primary school. Figures have risen by a staggering 9.1 per cent in just one year, according to the national child measurement programme and by the time children move into high school, nearly one in five are classed as obese.
As with almost everything in life, there's a class and a gender divide: Richmond upon Thames in south-west London has the fewest fat children in England while obesity in the most deprived areas is double that of those living in the least deprived areas. More boys are obese than girls but more girls suffer from eating disorders than boys, so it all equals out in the end.
And according to a policy commission on the future of education, school children may soon be too fat to fit under their school desks. Standard school furniture is based on measurements made in the 1960s when children were smaller and thinner, but new research suggests that the average height of children has increased at the rate of 1cm a decade, with the majority of growth in the lower leg, and that the prevalence of obesity among pupils has risen from around five per cent in 1985 to almost 20 per cent in 2016.
I'm not sure about you, but when I read those figures I'm not worrying about school furniture, I'm worrying about 1,000 years hence, when all our children will have lower legs that are a full metre longer than they are today if that growth rate continues. They'll look like grasshoppers. Finding them a pair of trousers or some wellies that fit will be even more of a nightmare than it is now.
Additionally, if the obesity crisis continues rising at its current pace, those spindly lower legs aren't going to be of any use whatsoever – the first time children stand up they'll buckle under their own gigantic weight and need to be wheeled around on giant skateboards for life. Thank God I'll be dead by then.
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According to studies, unless schools start 'going large' with their school furniture orders, children's schoolwork could suffer as back pain distracts their attention and causes absence from school.
We may not have had an over-sized obesity problem at my high school, but we did have more than our fair share of those freakish early-developers who reach puberty at six and look like 45-year-olds by the time they're 12, and they still managed to fit under the desks.
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One of my children goes to school with a boy who looks older than half the staff who teach him.
As for myself, I certainly wasn't overweight at school, although I may have been slightly under-height for my weight. But even at my lowest height, ahem, I could still fit under a school desk and have room for a copy of Jackie magazine to read during geography, particularly when we were learning about the import and export trade in Nigeria (a subject as relevant to my life then as it is now, ie not at all).
Maintaining a healthy weight in those days meant not being so fat that your thighs persistently rubbed against the chewing gum left on the bottom of the desk by its previous occupant. These days it means being slender enough not to require being washed with a rag on a stick.
Namby-pamby excuses about desks and bad backs would have been met with hollow laughter and a month of lunchtime detentions in the lair of the terrifying bearded maths teacher whose hatred of young people was considered a bonus, rather than an impediment, to her teaching career.
It practically took the production of a death certificate to get you out of PE lessons, let alone ordinary lessons, and even if you had that, you'd still be expected to carry the netball bibs, keep score and apply pressure to wounds when required.
Forget about small desks and chairs causing backache, the PE knickers at my school in the late 1980s caused the kind of injuries to one's self esteem from which many, including me, never truly recovered.
Even the good-looking twig-legged girls struggled in those monstrosities, so for those of us who had nice personalities and backsides so large they had their own gravitational pull and corresponding solar system, the knickers were an appallingly unsubtle form of torture.
Quite why fostering team spirit amongst people that, on the whole, you probably wouldn't spit on if they were on fire was considered edifying is anyone's guess.
More to the point, why that fostering had to be done while wearing a huge pair of pants made from an exotic blend of manmade fibres – one stray spark during hockey practice and the entire school could have been blown sky-high – also remains at issue.
Skiving PE, unless you were a future Oscar winner, was difficult, but avoiding communal showering was attainable with that classic Get Out Of Jail Free card – your period (unless you were a boy, when it was less likely to work unless you were dealing with one of the foreign student teachers).
There were many girls in my class who appeared to defy biology and have their period every single week of the month in order to evade the showers, but it was when it came to swimming that the biological situation got really out of hand.
In the end, we needed a letter from our parents to prove the painters were in – teachers rightly feared a situation where only one student ended up in the pool, the pregnant one from the fourth year who realised the period excuse was out of bounds for at least nine months.
Come to think of it, even she could get behind a school desk. Just how big are kids these days? Should I be saving up for a winch for when my grandchildren hit puberty? I think all this trouble began when they got rid of the nit nurses, personally. Those nits weigh a tonne.