Supporting children with SEN to maintain a healthy weight

'Health risks and the threat of obesity are huge concerns for families of children with disabilities and special needs. The issue goes beyond food and portion control for these families. It’s a balancing act: working with behaviors and aversions, medications and mobility challenges while exploring available community opportunities for participation. Finding the right balance is a family issue that starts in the home and quickly reaches out to schools ...'

Sheryl Young, AbilityPath

Statistical Information

Being overweight is a global problem, but it is of special concern for those with disabilities, who are significantly more likely than their peers to be overweight or very overweight.

Data from the 2015/16 National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) in England show that :

  • Over a fifth of reception children were overweight or obese. In Year 6 it was over a third
  • The prevalence of obesity has increased since 2014/15 in both reception and Year 6
  • Obesity prevalence was higher for boys than girls in both age groups
  • Obesity prevalence for children living in the most deprived areas was more than double that of those living in the least deprived areas.

Analysis of combined data from the Health Survey for England 2006–2010 shows that children aged 2–15 with a limiting long-term illness or disability are 35% more likely to be very overweight than those without.


Children with SEND might be at increased risk of becoming overweight or very overweight due to:

  • ‘Faddy’ eating (e.g. children with Autism)
  • Sensory issues
  • Not being able to express when they are full
  • Lack of opportunity to be physically active
  • Association with some genetic syndromes e.g. Prader-Willi syndrome

If there is a concern about a child with SEND, refer to the school nurse or dietician so that they can be weighed and measured.


Children with SEND already work harder than their counterparts to accomplish everyday tasks. Being very overweight adds an additional layer of difficulty for both children and those who care for them.  It can:

  • Make movement more difficult and restrict ability to participate in leisure activities
  • Be an added stigma for children
  • Make it more difficult for carers to help with daily tasks
  • Put children at a higher risk of secondary health problems like type 2 diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular disease, orthopedic problems, sleep apnea.... There is also a link between being overweight and Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Incur additional health care costs
  • Provide healthy eating experiences of a wide variety of foods
  • Promote suitable forms of physical activity / suitable places where they can take part in physical activity
  • Teach healthy eating habits including lots of fruit and vegetables
  • Do not use food as a reward.

Children with SEND may require an extra level of thoughtfulness and attention to maintain a healthy weight, and solutions that work for typically-developing children may not work without modification, or be available to their particular community.

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