Scottish Daily Mail

Giant-sized school uniforms that reveal the true scale of our obesity crisis

From a skirt that would fit a size 26 woman to a blazer with a 56in chest ...

- by Thea Jourdan

THEY’RE called ‘comfy’. Or ‘generous’. Not forgetting the ultimate euphemism, ‘sturdy’. Examine the labels in the school uniform on sale for larger children and there is one significan­t oversight. Not one is described as what it is: Extra Large (or XL).

While we know that vanity sizing in adult clothing is rife, the cynical use of soft terms like ‘generous’ shows how endemic obesity has become among children (one in three at the age of 11 are overweight or obese). Shops are all too willing to gloss over the burgeoning girth of youngsters with cleverly marketed plus-sized ranges.

Why? Well, just as with adults, you’re far more likely to buy something if it makes you feel better about your shape — even if that shape is a danger to your health. But it is, some say, worryingly cynical.

In the past, if your child was too fat to fit into the average size for their age, they would simply be forced to buy clothes made for older children — which would be too long and need adjusting.

But, today, red-faced parents don’t want to have to watch podgy children struggle to get into uniform for their age group. Shop assistants hand over discreetly labelled plus-sized garments in the correct age range but tailored for this new breed of overweight youngsters. Inside, the labels merely say something like ‘Age 11: Generous Fit.’ The now defunct BHS was the first to market an XL range of school uniform as ‘generous’. Today, John Lewis and Debenhams also have a ‘generous’ range. Asda call theirs ‘Plus Fit’, which almost makes it sound like a good thing.

Next, too, have a ‘Plus Fit’ range, advertised as ‘more generous through the waist and hips’. Meanwhile, the online School Uniform Shop prefer the fabulously oblique descriptio­n ‘Sturdy’.

Bigger school uniforms are big business. All the major supermarke­ts, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Lidl, stock them, as well as Debenhams and M&S. Lidl’s range, which launched this July, sold out long before the start of the new school year.

Tesco, meanwhile, has expanded its F&F school uniform range. And these larger sizes start right from the off, for children as young as three.

So what size are these outfits that are deemed ‘generous’ or ‘sturdy’?

It’s surprising­ly difficult to get exact informatio­n. M&S are open, and say their school uniform, which they simply call ‘plus size’, has an extra 6 cm at the waist and hip. Tesco’s plus sizes are also 6cm larger at the waist. Sainsbury’s say their generous fit uniform range is 8 cm bigger.

All other stores we contacted declined to comment.

A spokeswoma­n for Asda would only say that ‘our Plus Fit trousers and skirts feature a more generous fit through the waist and hips with a comfort elasticate­d waistband or adjustable waistband to grow with your child.’

And growing they are. Indeed, previous research has shown that a 16-year-old girl in the M&S plus-size range would have a 40in chest, 32in waist and 41¾ in hips — the equivalent to an adult size 14 to 16.

Out of curiosity, I go to my failsafe store for school uniforms, John Lewis, to measure their ‘generous’ range for myself: I am shocked to see the bigger range is by my measuremen­ts up to 15cm larger around the waist than the regular size.

Independen­t school uniform specialist Paul Wibberley, based in Merseyside, has watched this happen for years. He sells school skirts that are the equivalent of an adult size 26 to children as young as 11, and blazers with a 56 in chest.

‘Nearly all of my suppliers are offering increased sizes and they’re providing larger and larger sizes with every season,’ he said.

In 2001, Mr Wibberley’s shop supplied only two sizes of uniform — ‘slim fit’ and ‘regular fit’ — but now ‘slim fit’ no longer exists and has been replaced by ‘sturdy fit’. Waists are elasticate­d and of a size for children two years older than the leg length, meaning trousers for a ten-yearold will have a waist for a 12-year-old. But some socalled ‘sturdy fit’ waists can go all the way up to a gargantuan 50 in. Of course, no one would want to embarrass children who are struggling with their weight, despite eating well and exercising. But the question must be asked: what does it say that such vast sizes are now commonplac­e? Well, most obviously, it shows how much bigger our children have become. In 1978, the average 11year-old girl had a waist of 60cm. In 2013, it had risen to 70cm. And in 1978, an 11-year-old boy had a waist of 61cm — whereas today it’s also 70cm.

Are these XL children the new norm? Tam Fry, a spokespers­on for the National Obesity Forum, believes retailers are normalisin­g unhealthy weight gain — at the expense of children’s health. ‘One of the problems with creating plus sizes for kids is that it allows parents to ignore the problem, which is very bad for the health of their children.’

Indeed, this generation is the first that will die earlier than their parents, due mainly to the health problems associated with obesity. As Cancer Research UK points out, obesity is the second largest preventabl­e cause of cancer after smoking.

Tam Fry also believes that euphemisti­c vanity labelling, like ‘generous fit’,’ plus fit’ and ‘comfortabl­e sizing’, should be dropped.

Even Caroline Taylor, who launched the online plus size children’s wear store More For Kids in 2014, and was instrument­al in starting the BHS Generous Fit range for school uniforms, says that transparen­t sizing is essential.

She agrees that customers are not given enough informatio­n about what generous sizing actually means. Her own website includes an exact sizing guide as well as a healthy living section. She also says her revenues are doubling year on year.

However, she doesn’t think that retailers are failing children and parents when they use euphemisms. ‘Children are overweight for all sorts of reasons and there is no point in making them feel more uncomforta­ble than they already do.’

That’s a sentiment Julia Mead, 33, a learning support assistant from South Buckingham­shire and mum to 11-year-old Adrian, agrees with. She insists she already feels ‘guilty enough’ when trying to buy uniform for her son, who is average height for his age, but 3st overweight. ‘He is big for his age and I know he would be healthier at a lighter weight.’

Like many of the retailers, Julia prefers to describe Adrian in softer terms, describing him as ‘sturdy’ rather than obese — despite the fact he weighs just under 9st, in contrast to the 5½ st the average child his age weighs.

She’s happy that shops have adopted her gentler terminolog­y, rather than the XL labels of the past — but feels ostracised by some for Adrian’s weight.

‘There is still a stigma around having an overweight child and I do feel that some people look down their noses at me. I hate people judging me when they don’t have the full facts.’

Those ‘full facts’ are that Adrian was normal size until he turned nine, when his mother was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.

‘When I was having chemothera­py, he often stayed with his relatives who did let him comfort eat a bit,’ explains Julia who has since, thankfully, made a full recovery. ‘He put on weight then and hasn’t been able to get it off since, despite enjoying swimming with his dad.’

But with 140,000 young people now so large that they fit the recommenda­tions for adult weight loss surgery, one can only wonder: when will someone take tough action to fight this prevalent obesity among children, rather than sugar-coating reality?

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