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Case study: Taking part in research: Bertie and Freddie's story

Bertie tells us his experience of his son Freddie taking part in research

Childhood overweight status is likely to continue into adulthood, leading to an increased risk of health conditions such as asthma, joint problems, and emotional issues. Being overweight as an adult also increases the risk of other serious health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. However, it can be difficult for parents to determine if their child is a healthy weight just by looking at them. Additionally, many parents do not like charts or child body mass index (BMI) centiles.

To help address this issue, the MapMe2 study developed an intervention tool called MapMe, which uses body map pictures to help parents check if their child's weight is healthy and provide advice on how to improve and maintain their child's weight through healthy eating and exercise. The study aims to improve parental understanding of childhood overweight and obesity by evaluating data on how child weight status is perceived, any changes as a result of help-seeking activity, child food intake and physical activity, and child-reported psychological outcomes (self-esteem and eating disorder risk).

The study is part of the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP), which measures the weight of children in reception and year 6 to assess overweight and obesity levels and inform the planning and delivery of services for children. Public Health England provides guidance to local authorities and schools to undertake the exercise sensitively, safeguarding the privacy and dignity of the child, and suppressing individual children's results to protect their identity. Parents can choose to withdraw their child from the process by responding to a letter.

We asked Bertie - who works in research - about his experience of his son Freddie participating in the MapMe2 study.

How did you find out about the study?

The schools sent a letter home about the study. The letter explained that as the study would be taking place in the school and if you don’t want your child to take part you can opt out. Through working in research I already knew what the study was about.

Why did you decide to consent your child to take part?

We didn’t really have to consent since it is an opt out study, meaning you only need to respond if you do not consent. So it more or less went ahead unless parents opted out. I didn’t want to opt out as the letter explained the study well and it was just to take height and weight measurements. What the study involves wasn’t anything for me to worry about.

What has the experience been like?

I think it’s better to have an opt out than opt in for simple low risk research studies in schools, and is an easy way to get kids to be participants and get on board. Sometimes studies are very low risk for the participants and very beneficial for society, in this case opt out can be a good option. If consent appointments needed to be made for every child in the school, then this would be hugely complicated and time consuming. So, opting out is simpler than the alternative and easier for teachers and parents.

It was nice that the nurses who went into the school knew Freddie was, so they made sure to introduce themselves and let them know they knew his daddy. Freddie didn’t say anything about the study when I got home even when I asked him if anything different happened at school that day. After prompting him further about whether he left the classroom to get anything done, he still said no. Until I said “Did you see Daddy’s friends today?” He finally remembered and said yes and confirmed he got his weight and height measured. A classic six-year-old with other things on his mind!

What would you say to other people thinking of taking part in research?

I mean it was nice and easy, this study was an accessible option. I think Freddie enjoyed doing it and I think it’s good for kids to get involved from an early age. He took part in another study during a research day at the university run by the psychology department, he quite enjoyed that when we took him along to it.

If you are interested in volunteering for health and care research, visit the Be Part of Research website to find out more about research studies taking place in your area.