A bodybuilding mum has exposed the “inaccurate” system used to measure the health of children in schools – after her BMI reading classed her as ‘overweight’.
World champ Charlene Harvey, 27, exercises relentlessly and eats a healthy diet but her weight fluctuates between nine-and-a-half stone and 11 depending on her training.
But at 11 stone her BMI is 26 – technically putting her in the overweight category.
The 5ft 4ins mum-of-two says this proves the Government’s policy of labelling kids fat because of the simple test is misleading and damaging.
She has spoken out after her daughter Lilli, 11, came home from Malmesbury Primary School in Wiltshire with a letter about the scheme.
Accounts assistant Charlene said she was “shocked and angered” when Lilli said: “Mummy, are they going to send you a letter home and tell you I’m fat?”
She has now called for the government to rethink the scheme, which records year six pupils’ height and weight and calculates their body mass index.
Charlene, who was crowned Pure Elite World Muscle Model last year, said: “I’m quite heavy because I carry a lot of muscle and I’m also quite short.
“On a BMI scale I’m quite often classed as overweight but to look at me you would think that was a joke, so I know how inaccurate it is.
“It’s only based on the height and weight of a person. It does not take into account muscle mass, bone density, overall body composition.
“If you happen to have just drunk two pints of squash before you step on the scales you’re buggered.”
Charlene, who is 5ft 4ins, has just eight per cent body fat and weighs around nine-and-a-half stone when she’s training, giving her a ‘healthy’ BMI.
When she’s not training during the rest of the year, her body fat is around 25 per cent and she weighs around 11 stone, giving her a BMI of 26.
Off-season, her BMI is overweight – and Charlene says that’s ridiculous because it doesn’t account for the muscle she’s carrying underneath.
She said her family is “fit and healthy” and while she follows a strict diet of chicken, fish, nuts, berries and protein powder, she cooks the kids normal, balanced meals.
Charlene, who lives with husband Chris, 48, Lilli and son Louis, 12, in Malmesbury, Wilts., added: “When Lilli brought the letter home, it annoyed me straight away.
“She is quite short and still carrying what you would call puppy fat. As soon as she hits puberty and shoots up that will all disappear.
“What’s the point in weighing her and telling me she is slightly overweight? In 12, 18 months it’ll all disappear but she will have been through all that.”
Charlene added: “Girls grow up and are fixated on numbers on a scale.
“I have got enough common sense to know that it doesn’t mean anything but I’m trying so hard to explain that to Lilli.
“Children develop at different rates. Some shoot up, others take a lot longer.
“Their bodies are changing. You don’t need to weigh them and plop them on a chart – they are still developing so it’s a pointless activity.
“It is unnecessary stress on them which they just don’t need.”
After being sent the letter, Charlene took Lilli’s measurements and entered them into the NHS BMI calculator, which classed her daughter as ‘overweight’.
She said it’s “shocking” that, had she allowed her to be measured at school, staff would have sent a letter home saying she is overweight.
“Lilli does regular exercise – normal school netball and things like that – and she is keen to join my gym,” she said.
“My diet is very strict and I wouldn’t force that on them, but they eat normal family meals and I always make them healthy.”
She added: “You can quite easily see if you have got a child in the class who is overweight enough that some advice might be required.
“We need to come up with a more accurate system which takes body composition into account so we don’t get these false results.”
Justine Womack, Health and Wellbeing Programme Lead for Public Health England South West said BMI is the preferred method of testing a large number of children.
She said: “It is difficult for parents to find out that their child is an unhealthy weight.
“However, councils pass this information on sensitively and in complete confidence, and we know that the large majority of parents welcome the feedback.”
She added that the programme is optional and that measurements are taken in private with children remaining fully-clothed.
“Our surveys show that 87% of parents value the results and information provided.”
Wiltshire Council added that they tell the parents of children who are overweight or obese about the results in a “sensitive” way.
They make sure that they feel “supported and encouraged to take the next steps to a healthier lifestyle if they wish to do so”.