So in case you haven’t heard… there is an issue in England right now about whether a child should be removed from his home and put into child care services because his mother is allowing him to become obese. The 8-year-old boy weighs 196 lbs. Which brings up an interesting question… is allowing your child to become obese essentially a form of child abuse?
It’s a tough one. In this particular case, the mother has sought help from professionals in trying to help her child to lose weight, but then has refused to implement their plans for doing so– putting a lock on the refrigerator door, and not feeding him junk food. Her argument is that the boy will only eat processed foods, will spit out fruits, vegetables, and healthy foods, so in an effort not to starve him, she allows him to eat the junk food. But come on… 196 lbs? That’s a lot of junk food even for an adult.
The women is obviously not doing everything she can to prevent the child’s obesity. If she refused to give him junk food, he would eventually get hungry enough that he would eat the fruit and vegetables. He won’t starve himself. She could also, for lack of a better term, force him, to get more physical activity by taking him to the swimming pool, going to the park with him, etc. He is apparently not getting much exercise, but at 196 lbs, it may be difficult for him to do much more than walk. But even going on walks with him would help.
Even if we agree there is more she could do, is allowing your child to overeat a form of abuse? It isn’t causing the child any physical pain– at least not now, although the onset of Diabetes is probably imminent. It isn’t causing the child any emotional pain directly– although chances are, he is alienated from other children daily because of his size… but children alienate each other for plenty of other reasons too. So is it abuse?
If it is abuse, then it follows the child should be removed from the home to prevent such abuse. But is it really better for a child to be taken from his mother and placed in foster care which is inherently traumatic for kids, especially if that mother is loving and nurturing in every other sense? Does that really benefit the child?
If it is abuse, then what criteria do we use to decipher abuse from a child who simply is overweight. Is there a height/weight scale? Who gets to come up with that? Do we just wait around for extreme cases like this and if it’s extreme enough that we all agree the child is obese, then we label that parent abusive?
Personally, I’m not sure what the best way is to deal with this. I would love to think that parents would do everything they can to make sure their children are healthy and have the means to integrate well with their peers. I’d like to think that parents would want to prevent Diabetes, joint problems, heart attacks in their kids. I would like to believe that an adult can look at their child, see what’s happening, and be the strong party that makes strides to improve it. But we can’t really assume adults will do that for themselves.
With all the debate about what constitutes abuse these days… this is definitely food for thought. Children can’t make these kinds of decisions for themselves. They rely on parents to decide what is okay for them to eat, just like parents decide when it’s okay to cross the street, or keep them from running up and trying to touch a stray dog. I realize a child may want to eat junk food instead of vegetables, but it’s a parent’s responsibility to limit how much junk food he/she can consume, and children will eat what they are taught to eat. A child who’s never had a McDonalds cheeseburger won’t demand that over a piece of fruit.