14 June 2007

Lock Up Fat Parents

Fat Kids: Parents feeding baby junk food [Credit: www.consumerist.com]In a little reported survey published at the start of this week, we learnt that almost one child in four is overweight (18%) or obese (5%) at age three.

Today the BBC informs us that obesity has been a factor in at least twenty child protection cases in the last year and many within the British Medical Association believe the government should consider childhood obesity in under-12s as neglect by the parents. Quite clearly we are looking at a public health problem, but are we really also looking at a child protection issue?

This Government clearly believes that the nanny state can do a better job of bringing up the next generation, that parents are untrustworthy and should hand over responsibility for their offspring from when they wake until they are ready for bed. However, do we really want to criminalise and put into care the children of parents who, largely as a consequence of their own upbringing or poor education, do not know how to feed their children properly? Given that the problem was virtually non-existent in the twentieth century†, what has changed in recent years suddenly to make this an issue? Is advertising and the cheap availability of unhealthy meals to blame? Has the ability of parents to raise their children properly been undermined by the way the traditional nuclear family has been put under pressure, single parenthood incentivised‡, and mothers encouraged into the workplace? Lastly, what are the roles and obligations of parents, schools, school-food providers, and the government in tackling childhood obesity?

† By the way, this is not just a British problem, as reported late last year in Medical News Today: Belly Fat Of US Children Grew By Over 65% Since 1999

‡ A fact confirmed again today in the second study by former Labour welfare reform minister Frank Field in a report for the think tank Reform, Welfare isn’t working—Child Poverty, in which he argues that Gordon Brown's tax and benefit system "brutally discriminates" against two-parent families.


Anonymous said...

The fact is it's easy for the government to blame parents for a problem that it has an appalling record on itself. Just look at the recent school meals debacle!
Furthermore, every baby in this country is given a "red book" with charts that supposedly show the "healthy weight range" of infants. The charts were created in the 1950s when the majority of babies were fed on (now withdrawn) high-protein formula milk. The WHO has categorically said that these suggested weights are far too high and expecting babies who are breast fed to achieve these weights is unrealistic. Despite the existence of new, WHO charts based on breast-fed babies the government persists in using the old charts. Breast-feeding has been shown to be one of the best preventions against childhood obesity in later life but every day women abandon the practice because their babies do not meet these unrealistic weight expectations.
I am outraged that the government's focus is putting even more pressure on parents when there is so very much to do before it gets its own house in order.