From 50-inch chest blazers to XXXXXXXXL trousers, supersize school uniforms are in growing demand in Gloucester as the city feels the impact of the UK obesity crisis.
With Public Health England figures classing almost a quarter of Year 6 pupils in the city as obese(21 per cent), plus-sized and ‘generous fit’ clothing retailers have reported increased sales.
While some put the rise down to the region’s rugby heritage, others have linked it to Gloucester’s latest childhood obesity figures which place the city ahead of the national average (by 2%).
Gloucestershire uniform supplier Sturdy Kids, established by mum Vanessa Fowler after she failed to find clothing for her sons on the High Street, has seen a hike in trade ahead of the new school year. She said business is growing.
“We’ve seen the demand grow year on year for plus-size clothing,” she said.
“The High Street has a small offering of plus-sized children’s clothes which nowhere near meets demand.
“We speak to parents on a daily basis who have struggled to find their children clothing. A trip down the High Street for a plus-size child often leaves them feeling upset and disheartened.
“Giving children well-fitting comfortable clothing, whatever their size, we believe makes them feel more confident and happier.”
Fears have been raised in the past that Gloucester’s obesity problem is not helped by the closeness of fast food outlets to some schools.
In a one-mile radius around Eastgate Street and Barton and Tredworth, there are 27 – just a short walk from three schools.
On the High Street, retailer BHS has a new ‘generous fit’ size guide, which lists 40in waists for 15 to 16-year-olds and 34in for 11-year-olds.
The store is also advertising adult-sized clothing for children who do not fit into its Back to School range.
According to a source, member of staff at the store the new range is selling well at the store.
Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said its research shows that in the next 15 to 20 years half the UK population will be overweight.
He said: “It is an appalling situation we find ourselves in and very disturbing that we are seeing school uniforms going up to waist sizes of 50in.”
The county council has introduced a range of measures to help people get healthier, including promotion of the Henry programme – Health Exercise Nutrition for the Really Young – which supports families with young children at high risk of obesity.
Councillor Dorcas Binns, cabinet member for public health and communities at Gloucestershire County Council, said: “We know obesity is a growing problem – that’s why it’s one of the five key priorities identified within our health and wellbeing strategy.
“We’re working with all of our partners, including NHS Gloucestershire clinical commissioning group and district councils, to help address obesity.
“Measures include the provision of education about healthy lifestyles in school and community-based weight management groups.”
However, John Meyrick, managing director of Trutex school clothing, argues sizes are not increasing.
He suggests Gloucester’s rugby heritage could be a reason for a surge in sales in some shops for larger children’s school uniforms.
“We have looked at our figures and, if anything, children are getting taller and thinner, not more obese,” he said.
“We have sold just one 50in blazer in the past three years and that was to a Gloucester Academy pupil.
“We do stock these sizes but they are very few and far between. We have stock at both ends of the scale, with blazers sized 48in to 56in and also 26in to 30in – and we sell far more of the smaller sizes.
“Chest size is not the best indicator of children becoming more obese.
“Gloucester is a rugby area so there are a lot of tall, larger-framed youngsters who need a bigger blazer so their sleeves fit, which may skew the figures.”
Trutex, based in Northgate Street, supplies 14 county schools with uniform.