A mum whose anorexia was triggered by a school nurse branding her overweight is furious after her tiny four-year-old son was labelled FAT in a government test.
Emily McKenzie, 37, developed an eating disorder as a teenager and her weight plummeted to just 3st 10lbs as she starved herself on 50 calories a day.
After a 15-year battle with anorexia she is now a normal weight and keen to encourage her four children to have a healthy relationship with their bodies.
So she was furious when her “very healthy” son Jack McKenzie, who is 3ft 4ins (104cm) and weighs 3st 1lb (19.5kg), was labelled overweight by nurses.
The youngster was measured as part of a Government-led monitoring programme at Widcombe Infant School in Bath, Somerset.
Emily, a former teaching assistant who is now a full-time mum, said: “If you look at him he is completely normal.
“I don’t understand why a four-year-old needs a label and why common sense isn’t applied to it.
“Jack is clearly not overweight or obese. He has never had a particular sweet tooth and he doesn’t sit still – he goes swimming a few times a week and scoots to school.
“He loves to have a big bowl of fruit and we encourage to eat all of the food groups, but he isn’t fanatical about his food.
“I fight every day because of what I have been through to make my children realise that they are worth something and that they are perfect the way they are.
“I thought I might need to protect my girls from this sort of negativity. I had no idea my son would have any kind of problem. Who knows what impact this could have on him?”
Emily, of Bath, Somerset, began battling anorexia when she was 13 after the nurse at her boarding school took her height and weight measurements.
Using a chart in her biology textbook, she quickly worked out her BMI – and discovered that she was considered overweight.
She said: “I was fit and active, but it said that if you could pinch an inch under your ribs you were too fat.
“I took it to an extreme and before I realised it I ended up with a massive problem.”
At her lowest point Emily was 5ft 6ins tall and weighed just 3st 10lbs (23.6kg) at the age of 16 – putting her in the ‘underweight’ category at the very bottom of the BMI scale.
She would exercise for five hours a day and survive on water crackers and hot lemon squash – which added up to as little as 50 calories.
“I got it into my head that to not gain weight I had to eat literally nothing and very quickly my weight dropped from nine stone to six,” she explained.
“At my lowest point, I was surviving on about 50 calories. I would have a couple of water crackers and then a hot lemon squash.
“I would also swim 100 lengths and do three classes at the gym every day. I have no idea how I didn’t die.”
Emily spent the following decade in and out of hospital and only began to recover after meeting her husband Ed, a financial director.
However, she relapsed again aged 26 and it wasn’t until she realised that if she didn’t gain weight she would never have children that something changed in her mindset.
Gradually, Emily’s relationship with food improved and she recovered to a healthy weight.
Her periods eventually began when she was 29, and, in 2009, she fell pregnant with her first child, Amelie.
Emily said: “But body image to me is still so important. I think my children, in this day and age, are going to have a real battle.
“We need less negativity and certainly more clarity if they are going to make such sweeping statements.
“There is this person analysing data without having the child in front of them. Some common sense needs to come into it.”
Jack’s test results claimed his BMI was in the ’96 centile’ – which means he is heavier than 96 per cent of children of his age and puts him in the ‘overweight’ category.
Emily received the results in a bombshell letter from Sirona, which carries out health check-ups at primary schools on behalf of local authorities.
She contacted them to dispute the results but spoke to a nurse who was adamant that BMI is the way to tackle obesity in children.
Sirona is commissioned by Bath and North East Somerset Council to measure the height and weight of reception and Year Six students.
Sue Anderson, head of school nursing for Sirona, said she is unable to discuss an individual child’s results.
But she added: “We recognise that each individual circumstance is different and the letter therefore tries to be factual in terms of the results and their potential implications, but does indicate that children should not be encouraged to lose weight.
“Instead it highlights that making small lifestyle changes can help children to achieve a healthy weight as they grow.”
The check-ups are part of the government-led National Child Measurement Programme.
Eustace De Sousa, national lead for children, young people and families at Public Health England, said the letter is not a ‘fat letter’.
He said: “It is difficult for any parent to receive information that suggests their child carries excess weight, so local authorities take great care to ensure this is done as sensitively as possible.
“Twice as many children leave primary school obese than when they started.
“And while the numbers are increasing whatever the child’s background, the gap between the most and least deprived is widening.”
Emily has launched a petition demanding that the government “abolish the outdated BMI chart when weighing and measuring school age children”.
To sign it, visit: https://petition.parliament.