Schools take on too much of the burden of tackling childhood obesity, a county councillor claims.
Cllr Clair Bell believes parents should be “stepping up to the mark” rather than relying on the state to reduce the weight of their children.
Around one in eight children were overweight when they started school in Kent last year.
There were more obese children in reception classes in Dartford, Gravesham and Swale than the rest of the county, according to a report by the Kent Public Health Observatory.
While the prevalence of overweight 10-year-olds was the highest in Dartford, Gravesham and Thanet.
Due to their weight, these children are more likely to have asthma, skin infections, type 2 diabetes and psychological disorders such as low self-esteem, eating disorders and anxiety.
The height and weight of pupils are measured at school as part of the government’s National Child Measurement Programme but parents can opt-out of the scheme.
Cllr Clair Bell (Con) told the health reform and public health cabinet committee she believes the health of children is the parents’ responsibility.
She said: “I think we put an awful lot on schools but children are not in school most of the time.
“They don’t have all their meals in school, it’s only one meal a day five days a week, if that.
“The bulk of their nutrition comes from the home and we can’t get away from the fact it’s parents who are responsible for their children.
“It isn’t the responsibility of the state to bring up people’s children when they are small.
“We can give them as much help and support as possible but we must not focus on teachers and schools all the time when they have enough to be doing anyway.”
Public health consultant Samantha Bennett said the council is looking into one-on-one consultations with parents when children begin to eat solid food.
However, she added it is often challenging to get parents involved and admit their child has a problem.
She said: “We struggle to get hold of parents and when we do speak to them, the actual uptake of the interventions that we offer are very low.
“One of our biggest challenges is trying to engage parents to recognise where there is an issue.
“Largely the feedback when school nurses make those conversations, is they don’t think there’s a problem.
“They don’t recognise there is an issue with their child or it’s something they need to deal with at this time.
“If you’ve got obese parents, they are much less likely to recognise an issue with their own child as being obese.”
However, Cllr Sarah Hamilton (Con) warned this issue needs to be dealt with sensitively so children do not develop eating disorders.
She said: “I worry sometimes when we weigh children at schools because this touches on the issue of eating disorders and we have to be very careful to not focus on that and stigmatise – it’s a very delicate balance because that could trigger in susceptible individuals or parents.”
Cllr Hamilton also called into question the “ruthless” advertising industry which she believes promotes “very thin” bodies.