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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Is it child abuse to let your child become obese




Response from Leading Independent Family Psychologists

A news article in Isle of Man Today newspaper dated 20th August bore this stop in your tracks headline.

 ‘Allowing your child to become obese is a form of child abuse’.

The article proceeded to quote Chief Minister of the Isle of Man, Alan Bell as stating,

‘We need to wake up to the fact that this (obesity in children) is a very serious problem. Individuals must accept responsibility for safeguarding their own well-being’.

The article continued, ‘In the case of families it is the parents who should be held responsible for ensuring that their children eat properly and take enough exercise. Failure to do so could be described as a form of child neglect.

When you think that a parent caught slapping their child could be in court for child abuse. I don’t see why this should not equally be considered abusing their child’.

Strong words but is the rhetoric correct?

shutterstock_21440572Clearly, if your child is overweight there are considerable risks to his or her health.  Existing weighty research evidence concludes that there is no escaping this depressing fact. The truth is that eating the wrong food over time has a negative consequence on health.

These risks to health are relevant during childhood and continue to be pertinent as the child develops into adulthood.  Physical illness and indeed psychological dysfunction are more likely to come banging at your children’s door if they are obese.

That said the majority of parents from Dundee to Dungeness would be absolutely horrified to learn that which they feed their children may be signposting them to an earlier demise. They would also be shocked to learn that they may also be guilty of abuse.

Simplistic statements linking ‘obesity with abuse’ do not improve children’s diets, in fact they continue to increase the schism within an already divided society.

In reality, the problem is far more deep rooted and is entrenched with socio-economic and cultural influences.

Children become obese for a variety of reasons.  In truth the deliberate and therefore abusive force feeding of the wrong food is very rare. Although it is infrequently seen in Munchausen syndrome.

Accessible public education is the key to improving the diets of our children coupled with reasonable priced healthy food.

It is of little surprise that the poorest in our community have the most nutrient dilute diet.  Simply, junk food is relatively cheap, is usually available as pound stretching BOGOF deals and ultimately fills a hole in even the hungriest child’s ever rumbling stomach.

Of course parents who have limited resources will choose quantity over quality unless they are really clued up regarding the potential long term damage to their children that is caused by a poor diet.

Just yesterday in a Twitter post, a well-known supermarket chain launched a survey for Tweeters to take part in, ‘Tell us your favourite product’ and proceeded to give examples of pancakes and several other forms of nutritionally dilute food……

Could a survey not have been designed along the theme of ‘Tell us your favourite groovy fruit……and how do you eat it?

In these times of austerity, where many parents are genuinely challenged to make ends meet, there needs to be more visible, yet simultaneous low key promotion of healthier food.   These health promoting basics need to be available and available at a cheaper price.

Linking obesity with the words ‘child abuse’ is extremely short-sighted and damaging.  It insults the average parent and conversely dilutes the word from its everyday meaning, i.e., the horrendous cruelty that child protection professionals work with on a daily basis.

It does not elucidate the complex interplay that exists between food, culture, education and finance.  It is also has the potential of increasing the stigmatisation of the less financially and educationally affluent.

Of course parents do have to take responsibility to provide healthy food for children but they must be helped to do this.

Unless, sustained ‘punchy’ public education delivered via slick advertising and access to cheaper healthy food is possible, then it is policy makers who may have to re consider where accountability for obesity truly resides.

Written by Chrissie Tizzard

Consultant Adult and Child Psychologist

Sheehan Brooke Psychology

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