Are “Fat Kids” victims of child abuse?

Fernando Botero - A Family
Fernando Botero - A Family

Attention all parents of obese children, this is your wake-up call.

In the very near future, the government will:

  • Hold you responsible for your child’s obesity
  • Classify childhood obesity as a form of parental neglect
  • Require doctors to notify child protection services when they see a case of extreme childhood obesity
  • Legislate mandatory weight loss programs for obese children, and
  • Remove children from the custody of parents who repeatedly fail to address their child’s dietary problems.

And for those of you who think that this would never happen:

It already has.

In February of 2007, a judge in New York state took a child away from her parents due to her their refusal to address her obesity. She was placed into foster care.

A similar case occurred in Iowa in 1992.

Courts in several other states (California, Iowa, Indiana, New Mexico and Texas) have also recognized morbid obesity as an actionable issue.

And in today’s news…

Australia’s child obesity specialist, Dr. Shirley Alexander, said that “in extreme cases parents should lose custody if they repeatedly fail to address their dietary problems“. pdf

“Passive acquiescence by a doctor in the neglect of a severely obese child … could constitute a breach of a doctor’s duty of care,” Dr Alexander and three colleagues wrote in an article in Medical Journal of Australia.

Dr. Alexander went on to say:

Eric Cartman
Model: Eric Cartman

“In a sufficiently extreme case, notification to child protection services may be an appropriate professional response.

“Obesity has a significant adverse effect on a child’s well being, (with) both immediate and long-term medical and psycho-social health problems.”

And it gets even juicier:

Melbourne child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg said child protection authorities should be notified because leaving children to become obese was, in his view, “a form of child abuse. pdf

“Given the sociological and psychological consequences of that form of obesity, I don’t actually have a problem with that (taking children from parents) because in some instances we are condemning some children to a life of health problems . . . basically an early death.”

Mr Carr-Gregg said taking children from their parents should only be done in extreme cases.

“We are talking here about what psychologists and medical people call morbid obesity. This is the threshold where this sort of thing should kick in, that’s not unreasonable,” he said.

Surprisingly,  Children’s Welfare Agency chief Andrew McCallum disagrees. He says removing obese children from their parents is a ridiculous idea.

“We don’t need more reasons to bring more children into care in New South Wales or in Australia for that matter,” Mr McCallum said.

What we do need is:

  • A government that sees the benefits of preventing disease and promoting health
  • A government willing to spend money on physical fitness programs – not just education…actual physical activity
  • A government willing to put the nation’s health ahead of the wants of the major agricultural lobby groups – corn, wheat, etc…
  • A government willing to fund new research into obesity instead of throwing additional money at the geniuses behind the Food Pyramid
  • A government able to see that mental health and physical health influence each other…for the good and for the bad
  • A government with the guts to step up and say that over the past 30 years, our collective Western lifestyle has turned us into a bunch of fat, lazy, diabetic, anti-depressant popping, fiscally bankrupt drug addicts (pharmaceuticals and recreational).

Or, we can just sit back, eat another Big Mac and let the state raise our kids.



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  1. I’m with Andrew McCallum – and agree completely with your ‘What we need to do is’….list.

    I don’t agree with removing children from their homes for this reason.
    Every case is different, as is every child and the circumstances behind their weight problem.
    It isn’t always neglect.

  2. It’s not a simple problem is it?

    While I was writing this post, the pro-health / pro-child side of me was at war with the pro-liberty/anti-big gov’t side of me.

    And, to be honest, I am not sure which side won.

    And the debate goes on in today’s news. In both Australia and the UK, this topic is all over the media. As well, members of gov’t are expressing all sorts of indignation and concern. Must be time for an election

  3. I don’t the majority of parents ever intentionally subject their child to a life of obesity and health problems. The fact that they do might mean they make bad choices, but do not mean they are bad parents.

    I think government support in the battle against obesity is a must. But most of the time the government only gives lip service to support health programs or give money to programs that fuzzy up the solution even more. The food lobbies is too strong in the US.

  4. I can agree with both sides of the argument to some extent. I think that children’s health (more often than not) has to come down to the parents. I mean how can a young kid have so much control over what they consume daily? And is it their fault if they are not given many chances to maintain regular exercise?
    Parents must be blamed in most cases, however this may not be a case of neglect or abuse. Maybe the parents aren’t educated on nutrition? I think that child care authorities will be up to their eyeballs if all obese children are reported!
    I can’t agree on just one side to this; yes it’s bad and something needs to be done about it, but it can’t always be the fault of parents, can it? By the way I am young and do not have any children so am not biast.

  5. Its not abuse.
    I am a 14yr old fat kid (I way 158kg and 145cm tall).
    The only people who abuse me are people at school who teese me about my wayt

  6. Your site is very informative. I live in the Philippines – it’s really tricky out here. While we have 1 in 2 Filipinas aged 20yrs and over classified as overweight, we also have protein malnutrition. We used to be smaller than our Western counterparts – but we are catching up. 1 in 4 are already diabetic. WEIGHT MANAGEMENT is not even a science out here. Our traditional models are way too dated – dated than your failed traditional models. Our government cannot support health care, much less even look at obesity as an actual problem. It’s like watching a timebomb tick – it’s not a gradual easing into situation. It’s like sleeping everyday and waking up to a fatter society. 😦

  7. “It’s like sleeping everyday and waking up to a fatter society”.

    Do you have the same problem with gov’t food policies that we have here?

    Gov’t food policies that encouraged the explosion of “convenience” foods which led to the explosion of obesity which led to an explosion of healthcare spending and diabetes and hypertension and heart disease?

  8. Wonderful post on a great topic. It breaks my heart though.
    There was another case like this in South Carolina in 2009. The child’s name was Jerri Gray. So sad.

    From an logical standpoint, how does a government define cases that are “sufficiently extreme”?

    Also, we have to remember that weight problems–in the US at least–are very discriminatory. According to the CDC’s 2006 figures, 30.7% of white American kids are overweight or obese, compared with 34.9% of blacks and 38% of Mexican Americans. It discriminates by income: 22.4% of 10-to-17-year-olds living below the poverty line–less than $21,200 for a family of four–are overweight or obese, compared with 9.1% of kids whose families earn at least four times that amount.
    (,9171,1813984,00.html#ixzz0qyEL9vq4 )

  9. 1) I don’t want the government telling me what I can and can’t do in terms of feeding my family.
    2) Education is necessary for teaching the proper way to eat. The problem with TOO MUCH GOVERNMENT is that they told us of the food pyramid when we were younger, then changed it, then changed it again. Can’t hold people accountable when you change the measurement constantly.
    3) One of my children is lanky and thin, and the other heavy. The heavy child was diagnosed as an early teen having pediatric growth hormone deficiency, which explained his weight. And the government is going to take him away. I don’t think so.

  10. Hi Teresa

    1) The gov’t is already shaping what you can and can’t feed your kids via subsidies, taxation & legislation
    2) Education is necessary, but IMHO, the “experts” chosen by government are driven more by politics & ego than by getting results
    3) Re the growth hormone deficiency – that must be quite a challenge for you and your son. Hopefully the GH injections will help improve the situation.

    And obviously, a genetic condition such as your son’s (affecting 1 in 4000 approx) is not typical

  11. I work with adults, teenagers and children with eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia and compulsive eating/binge eating disorder.  As you have said, this is a very, very complex problem but our obsession with the ‘Obesity Epidemic’ and school’s healthy eating programmes (I am in Europe) are only fueling the problem, not helping it. 
    I have worked with kids as young as 4 years old (or at least the parents when they’re so young).  Life today is very different to 20 years ago.  20 years ago the average parent knew very little or nothing about saturated fat/HFCS/omega 3 etc, etc.  BUT… parents had clearer boundaries and homes had rules.  Today, we are nearly afraid to be strict or discipline our kids.  On top of that, both parents are often working long hours and are left with little energy to give to consistent parenting.  As a result we are spoiling our kids with material goods and food.  The result is emotionally empty, lost kids who crave boundaries (amongst other things) and we are seeing an alarming number of younsters turning to food to fulfil these needs. 

    Firstly we need to educate and EMPOWER parents.  There is nothing wrong with both parents working – I am certainly not implying that for a minute – but lose the guilt!  Guilty parents fuel distress in sensitive kids.  Due to work commitments I have few hours with my child during the week and only one day during the weekend but I make that count!  Even if I have to do housework I get him involved (gets him moving!) and we have a chat while we’re doing it.
    Turn off the damn TV!  The average child watches 2 hours per day… insane!  Talk to your kids, get to know them instead.  Go for a walk.  Young kids love nature walks (they may even teach you a thing or two!)

    One thing though, PLEASE don’t start teaching kids about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods or talk about weight loss to them.  An obese, school-going child KNOWS they’re over-weight (I’m sure they will be reminded daily in school).  YOU’RE the parent, YOU’RE responsible for what food does/does not come into the house.  Work on increasing their self-worth and you may find he or she will begin ‘needing’ the ice-cream etc so much.  Learn to say ‘NO’!  When it comes to nutritional education, I tell my son about what foods will fuel his muscles so he can ride his bike, which foods give him vitamins for his eyes so he can see, what stuff is good for his brain so he can do his best in school.  He gets candy/cookies occasionally but he knows they are just tasty (NOT ‘bad’!) but don’t do anything for his very important muscles, brain etc.  

    Taking kids away from their families is brutal and extreme and will only make a child with an eating disorder a lot worse.             

  12. As parents it is our responsibility to be primary carers, educators, providers of shelter, love and NUTRITION… Creating a situation that results in a child who is unhealthy, likely to become diabetic, suffer from heart disease and be a social outcast is not what I would call good parenting.

    To say someone is a good parent when they enable this situation by making bad choices is to be hypocritical. In the media today, there is so much emphasis on healthy eating options; a parent who chooses to ignore this and not to use common sense is basically a common criminal.

  13. I actually knew a girl back in high school who weighed about 190 pounds, about twice as much as me, and was short.
    Her mother had never cared to cook, she just watched TV, so when they had to eat they varied among Burger King, KFC, mcdonalds and pizza. It was really sad because this really became a habit for the girl.
    My mother thankfully never took me to a fast food joint, ever.

  14. Parents do not intentionally and maliciously overfeed and neglect to provide adequate exercise for their children, IMO. But, unwittingly, because of society and financial demands — yes — children ARE fed too much and most likely,of the wrong kinds of foods and are not being raised to engage in fitness-forming activities and exercise. Early childhood is the most critical and formative time re: nutritional status,life-long habits and attitudes, and setting the precedents for patterns that will last for life. But, I can’t blame only parents. There has never really been good, affordable, effective and convenient primary access to care for children who suffer from obesity, overweight, and poor fitness. Obese and overweight children have also been neglected by their GPs, school nurses, and extended ‘caregivers’, too. They’ve either been reprimanded and ‘accused’ of eating too much or being lazy or they’ve not been taken seriously. It is only NOW — when there is a clear obesity epidemic with subsequent skyrocketing incidences and freakishly early-onsets of diabetes, CVD, & metabolic syndrome — is there focus on care and attention to childhood obesity and support for parents who find themselves struggling with an unfit child(ren). I am NOT saying the parents are not at fault — I just think they are not the only trespassors in this whole dilemma and should not be singled out by government or any other grandiose and self-righteous individual, association, or institution. Government, the health sector, industry and big business — the food, fitness, sports, entertainment and beauty industries amongst the most notorious offenders — have also let these kids AND their parents down in identifying the problem early-on and addressing it properly.

  15. Furthermore, there is SO much overload and hype on this issue now — it’s like too much too late — my head spins. I’m not saying good programs are not needed and it’s certainly better late than never to intervene and PREVENT childhood obesity and poor fitness, but I just hope and pray that the hoopla dies down a bit and that genuine, practical, consistent, SUSTAINABLE, dependable, lasting, convenient, cost-effective, effective, and efficient programs come out of this onslaught of attention to the obesity epidemic and that parents, families, and kids who need help can find a reliable, affordable, accessible place to find it no matter where they live, what their financial status is, and how educated (or not) they are.

  16. While I don’t want government getting involved in more parts of our lives, I do see why this is happening. Many more kids are suffering from poor eating habits, learned mostly at home. Sadly, in today’s society, one parent isn’t at home to help prepare healthy meals, show how children how to cook. So in a way, yes, the parents are greatly at fault for managing their children’s weights. They are doing what is easiest for them in many ways or the parents themselves are overweight.

  17. Blaming parents can only go so far. In my family, my mother always meal planned with lots of fruits and veggies and not many desserts. My sister was super skinny and I was the opposite. Sometimes you can’t fight nature no matter how hard you try.

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