I admit it: When I see an overweight child, I immediately wonder what his parents feed him, or if her mother makes sure she gets enough exercise. I definitely blame the parents -- whether I should or not.
Some health experts, however, go beyond blame. In fact, a recent article in the British Medical Journal makes an argument that parents who don't attempt to help their children lose weight should be charged with neglect and that child protection services should become involved.
Dr. Russell Viner and colleagues from the UCL Institute of Child Health in London argue that a parent would be charged for failing to treat a child's asthma, epilepsy, or other disease, and that obesity is dangerous as well.
"We suggest that childhood obesity becomes a child protection concern when parents behave in a way that actively promotes treatment failure in a child who is at serious risk from obesity and when the parents or carers understand what is required, and are helped to engage with the treatment programme."
In some ways, I agree. Obesity is dangerous, so to allow parents to promote a lifestyle that encourages or supports weight gain seems wrong.
But weight gain and loss are such complicated topics that involve emotions and genetics and finances and so much more. So to charge a mom who won't throw out the Twinkies, I don't think we can go there either.
And how far could it go? Some studies show pesticides cause cancer, so should it be illegal to feed your family non-organic produce? What about foods with artificial dyes? What if your child gets a sunburn -- should you be slapped with a fine?
While childhood obesity is a serious subject and parents should help their children embrace a healthy lifestyle, I don't think this is the way to do it.
What's next? Are we going to charge fat adults with self-endangerment?
Do you think parents of fat children should be charged?
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