Childhood obesity and parental neglect
Having an obese child doesn't make one an unfit parent. Nor does failing at helping that child control his or her weight -- so long as you're trying.
Those are some of the conclusions drawn by a group of child-health experts whose paper appeared last week at bmj.com -- the online British Medical Journal. (I'm sorry that the link only gives you the start of the story; you'd have to pay to see the rest.) The group set out to devise guidelines to help medical professionals evaluate circumstances surrounding young patients' obesity with an eye toward detecting parental neglect.
Here's the foundation of the authors' discussion:
.... parents and schools have become the focus of government and media attention as agents of change in preventing childhood obesity.
It is but a short step from seeing parents as agents of change to blaming them for their child's obesity. Childhood obesity can be seen as a failure to adequately care for your children by failing to provide a healthy diet and sufficient activity, whether through direct neglect or more subtly through an inability to deny children the pleasures of energy dense fast food and television viewing. This is particularly the case when children have become morbidly obese and have potentially life threatening complications of obesity.
Because the etiology of childhood obesity is complex and can be complicated by issues related to sexual and other forms of abuse, the authors write, it's inappropriate to blame parents for their children's being obese or for their remaining that way despite efforts to help them lose weight. Also, the authors suggest, "As obesity remains extremely difficult for professionals to treat, it is untenable to criticise parents for failing to treat it successfully if they engage adequately with treatment."
But consistently failing to seek or take advantage of opportunities and resources to help a child achieve a healthful weight may constitute a form of neglect, the authors say -- and that neglect could warrant placing a child in foster care.
The paper is largely preemptive: The authors note that there have been only scattered cases in which parents have been taken to task for their children's obesity. But as child obesity continues to loom as a major personal and public health concern, the authors anticipate that more such cases may emerge, making guidelines for evaluating them necessary.
The paper also serves notice that more research into the relationships between parenting, child obesity and foster care is needed; the authors say that much of what they write is based on anecdotal rather than scientific data.
The authors note that this is a contentious issue. What do you think? Is a child's obesity ever a cause for removal from parental care?
Jennifer LaRue Huget
July 19, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Childhood obesity , Family Health , General Health , Health Policy , Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity
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