Parents of obese children – guilty of child neglect?

Child health experts suggest it’s a child protection concern if parents don’t help with diet and exercise

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Health experts have raised the idea that parents who ignore advice and fail to help an obese child eat and exercise well could be guilty of neglect, reports the Guardian.

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While a child’s weight alone isn’t a reason for child protection staff to get involved, if the parents continually fail to change their lifestyle for the better and don’t take onboard outside help, it could be a child protection concern.

The debate has been raised by an article, published online today in the British Medical Journal, by Dr Russell Viner and colleagues at the UCL Institute of Child Health, London.

“Parental failure to provide their children with adequate treatment for a chronic illness (asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, etc) is a well accepted reason for a child protection registration for neglect,” the experts wrote in the article.

“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.”

Dr Russell acknowledged how difficult it was to determine when obesity heads into neglect, because there’s a powerful pressure on everyone to eat a lot and not exercise enough. “For some parents, it is very difficult to stop their child gaining weight,” he commented. He also noted the connections we have with food and feeding being about love and care.

However, it’s not about taking children from their families – “Removing children from their parents may not help obesity. There are few data on the weight of children in public care,” said the article. Recently, a study revealed 37% of children in care were overweight or obese, and that almost all of them gained weight after they went into care.

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The child health experts say more research and guidelines for professionals are needed.

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