Is childhood obesity child abuse?

In my opinion there’s a direct link between eco-friendly eating and a healthy fit body. If you truly eat green and healthy plus live green (i.e. get outside into nature and get moving) I think you and your whole family will be healthier.

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At my house:

Today I was talking to my boyfriend Dave about his kids; well, more about his kids’ mom who makes extremely poor nutrition choices for the kids in my opinion. It’s been hard to convince the kids to eat healthy when they’re not being encouraged to make smart choices at their other house. I think all parents need to be on board.

The issues we have here, which I’ll go into more later, along with all the other chubby kids I see (like my son’s peers), kids at the store, etc combined with the fact that childhood obesity leads to all sorts of issues can be so hyper frustrating at times that I lose it.

Today while Dave and I were discussing these issues, I said, “Not teaching your kids to eat healthy, giving them nothing but crap to eat and putting their long-term health at risk is like child abuse!

But is it? Is it really, technically child abuse? Dave disagreed with me and so I’ve been thinking about it.

Poor nutrition, overweight kids and child abuse – is there a connection:

Legally, kids have been taken away from their kids due to obesity. It’s happened in the UK and even here in the United States, so someone else is thinking that child abuse may mean feeding kids poorly. One article at USA Today notes:

Ron Jones, a corporate wellness expert, uses the phrase “child obesity is child abuse” in his promotional materials and says the nation has turned its head the other way when it comes to accepting that concept. “If you gave your child a drug, you’d be held in the court. But if you kill them with food, that seems to be acceptable,” he says.

A quick look around the web will show you that many well respected health experts feel that yes, making a child obese is indeed child abuse.

Do negative food and exercise issues really abuse kids?

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We choose this meal – the meal doesn’t choose us.

Poor food choices on the part of parents and a lack of exercise because parents don’t encourage kids to be active can actually help to kill a child. Whether that’s certified child abuse is another issue, but here are some facts about the health risks…

  • The Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are now using the terms “epidemic” and “crisis” to describe how fat kids in this country are – these are words that aren’t tossed around by big groups unless there’s a very real reason to do so.
  • Pseudotumor cerebri (or in easy terms, head tumors) are on the rise among children and researchers say rising rates of obesity may be to blame.
  • Children who eat three or more burgers a week may be at a higher risk of asthma, but a healthy diet rich in fruit and fish seems to stave off the risk.
  • According to the WHO, being overweight can cause debilitating health problems such as respiratory difficulties, chronic musculoskeletal problems, skin problems and infertility. The more life-threatening problems fall into four main areas: CVD problems; conditions associated with insulin resistance such as type 2 diabetes; certain types of cancers, especially the hormonally related and large-bowel cancers; and gallbladder disease. Raised BMI also increases the risks of cancer of the breast, colon, prostate, endometroium, kidney and gallbladder. Being overweight and obesity also contribute significantly to osteoarthritis, a major cause of disability in adults.
  • Type 2 has been confined to older adults for most of the 20th century, but now affects obese children even before puberty.
  • The cumulative effect of obesity is that our kids belong to the first generation ever with a predicted shorter life span than their parents. “A 2005 analysis by a team of scientists forecast a two- to five-year drop in life expectancy unless aggressive action manages to reverse obesity rates. Since then, children have only gotten fatter.

So yes, in all truthfulness, poor diet choices and a lack of exercise can seriously hurt you and in many instances kill you. As parents we choose how our kids eat when they’re young, and our choices directly influence how our kids will make food and exercise choices later on. Since, it’s our fault when kids eat bad and don’t get exercise maybe it could be considered child abuse.

The slippery slope of calling parent choices child abuse

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Your kids in 15 years? Or not…

After thinking it over I’m going to withdraw my earlier statement about poor food choices and child abuse. I don’t think I want to go down the child abuse road.

  • Waste of time & cash. For one thing, prosecuting cases like this would be a waste of time and money. Child abuse means a child’s health is in imminent danger – and most dangers of food don’t affect health for a while. Lawyers on the parent’s side would have a field day. Obesity, although of course dangerous doesn’t really put a kid in 100%  immediate danger.
  • It’s a slippery slope for sure. If we allow others to make choices concerning weight for us, where will it end. Will home birth be  outlawed? Will co-sleeping be banned? Will you get arrested if you don’t recycle? Will kids with a specific IQ be taken away because parents didn’t “Make them smarter?” I know some people who hate that my son attends a Free School and know homeschooler who have been accused of child abuse simply because they homeschool. Where’s the line and who is smart enough to make the call of what’s too fat vs. not? It’s a door we may not want opened.
  • Child abuse is serious. I came from a questionable home environment. My siblings and I were kicked out of said home in our early teens but as kids no one helped us out. Maybe state child workers were too busy. Maybe they just didn’t care. However to see state child resources used for overweight kids vs. actual kids with serious abuse issues would irk me to no end. Weight is easy to control with help, child abuse less so and kids being abused need the resources.

That said, after I posted the above I talked to Dave again who said, “Maybe it is child abuse.” Really? He’s on board, he’s not… I think it’s a hard decision. Dave noted, “It’s like smoking, if you gave your kids a cigarette they could be taken away, so why should you be allowed to feed your kids nothing but junk?” Which is an argument I’ve thought of before. It’s not incorrect and both drugs of choice – bad food or ciggs would result in a slow death so…?

Because this obesity epidemic is a growing crisis plenty of organization are trying to combat it. We’ve got Michelle Obama with her Let’s Move campaign against childhood obesity. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former President Bill Clinton have held obesity summits. We’ve got folks on board for a fat tax. And of course as noted above kids are being taken from their parents in extreme cases – although some schools are sending home notes first.

The problem I see with most programs and government bans and regulation is that one, they punish unhealthy behavior instead of encourage healthy behavior.  Taking things away doesn’t help people gain an understanding of how to take responsibility for their own health. It’s like when counties place fees on folks who don’t recycle. It probally doesn’t make them like recycling anymore, they’re just being forced into it.

Maybe we’re smarter than that. I think there’s a learning curve to healthy eating but I’m pretty sure that with help anyone can learn it. Of course you have to want to learn it, but what’s the alternative? Do we go back to the child abuse argument?

What to do?

Since I’m not sure I can be on board with the obesity epidemic being child abuse and I’m sure people can, when motivated, think for themselves, what should we do in order to keep our own kids, and our friends kids healthy? Maybe we should aim for practical and positive solutions like…

  • Admit (REALLY admit) to your own family’s food challenges and successes – try to work on the challenges you have.
  • Educate parents about their influence on kids and teach them what concepts like a healthy weight and proper healthy meals really mean.
  • Help your close friends and family to eat better and exercise – recent research shows that obesity is catching.
  • Ignore myths. Teach families to not believe the, “My kid will starve without chips” myth. Also ignore the DNA myth. A common argument is, “My body is just made to be fat,” or “I think my kids have a thyroid issue.” There are reasons beyond poor eating and a lack of exercise as to why someone might be overweight, but they’re actually far and few.
  • Help kids (and parents) who hate being outside.
  • Get schools on board with healthy eating and exercise. Kids who eat school lunches are more likely to be overweight than kids who don’t.
  • Increase funding for after-school sports programs and gym classes. An “athletic identity” has been closely associated with better health.
  • Show people that healthy meals do not have to be more expensive than junk food meals.
  • Make healthy green eating easier not more complicated.

Above all else – we need to take responsibility! We’re an overweight country. But we’re also not a country with a gun to our head. Some people argue that mass media is that gun, but the fact remains that as a human you have a brain and you are the main agents in your own life. The actions you choose, good or bad, have consequences.

Coming up I’ll post some ideas for the solutions above. Such as how to afford healthy food, how to avoid the fat myths and how to get kids outside. I’ll even post the food challenges going on at my house.

Tell me what you think? It’s clear that childhood obesity is a staggering problem but is it child abuse?

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  1. Shane says

    Jennifer – I’ve had this bookmarked since you wrote it and have been so behind I’m just now getting around to reading it. You, as always, give such great information and I appreciate your points on all sides. I don’t know if I could go so far as to say it’s child abuse. But I could say that the #1 thing all families need to do is look at maybe what they aren’t doing so well, and where they can improve. Just tonight, my husband and I took our 4YO out to dinner. He hates to eat. Hates it. But he loves chicken nuggets. So I typically just order him that because he’ll sit, eat and not whine. Tonight we knowingly went somewhere that has no form of nugget. So I ordered him grilled chicken and we were literally talking him into it. Seriously? What have we done? First step – denuggetize him. We’re working on it. Thanks for the support. :)

  2. Jennifer says

    I hear ya. I’m trying to denuggetize Cedar too! It’s so stupid I even have to – especially since I’ve always been really focused on healthy foods (so what was I thinking with the nuggets!?). You’re lucky in that your son is just 4, so you’re ahead of the game. Cedar’s nine, so nuggets are more ingrained. I agree that we need to look at where we’re doing badly (and well) with our eating habits. I really do believe all families can eat healthy though; it just takes a lot of dedication, especially since society is not on our side.


  1. […] to the WHO being overweight is connected to many very harmful and debilitating health problems such as respiratory […]

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