Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Should Childhood Obesity be Considered Neglect?

A mother in Great Britain might lose custody of her son because the boy is significantly overweight. Officials are treating the case as one of possible child neglect.

Despite this story coming from the other side of the Atlantic, it certainly raises an interesting question. Should parents be held liable for childhood obesity? Here in the United States, the NIH has already declared the problem an epidemic as one in five American children are considered obese.

No one argues whether or not obesity in children is a serious health problem. It is. And parents simply have to be on the frontline in preventing the problem. But considering obesity as a sign of neglect seems more than just a little bit shortsighted.

Hopefully such a case won’t happen in the U.S. But with local governments already banning trans fat and some even considering a fat tax on junk foods, some municipality somewhere is bound to go after parents of overweight children.

But if the government is going to get involved in our national weight problem, reactive measures are not the way to go. Giving parents more tools (better/safer local parks, information campaigns, etc.) and providing children with more physical education in schools is far better than turning parents into the enemy.

The thing we have to remember about obesity is that it’s not cut-and-dry. What constitutes “fat” and which children actually suffer health risks are not matters of scientific certainty. Therefore, public policy cannot be rigid either.

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