Parents are responsible to keep their children healthy and away from harm. Whether this harm is self inflicted or caused by an outside source, parents are still responsible. When others take actions to harm children, typically, charges are pressed and the legal system works to take punitive measures on the abuser. This is also true when the child abuser is the parent of the child. Legally, parents are entitled to raise their children as they see fit, however, they also have a legal and moral responsibility to protect their children from harm. (Perryman) Lifestyle choices, while a private matter that are protected under the law, should not be condoned if such choices lead to lasting and nearly irreparable damage to individuals who are emotionally, mentally and legally incapable of taking action on their own behalf. The reason why laws are so strong regarding the abuse of children is that children have no choice. They must do as they are told, they must eat what they are fed.
Serious harm is done to children who are obese. Obese youth are more likely to develop serious conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol – before they reach the age of 18. (Cdc.gov) As adults, obese children are morel likely to develop cancer, suffer from stroke, sleep apnea and endure low self esteem, all of which greatly impacts both quality of life and life expectancy. The responsibility of a parent is to protect their children from harm, and to preserve life. If a parent were to be caught giving a child a beer or a cigarette they would be punished, so why should the standard be any different when a parents hands a kid a candy bar if they could clearly see it was causing the child potentially life threatening health issues?
“In 2008, the Child Welfare League of America reported that many state courts have expanded their definition of medical neglect to include morbid obesity and then ruled that certain children were victims of neglect because of their obesity. For example, the mother of a 14-year-old was arrested and charged with criminal neglect because her son weighed 555 pounds.” (Perryman) Claims cost of treating type II diabetes in kids is $10,789 [per child]. Kids who are obese are more likely to repeat a grade or be absent more than two weeks in school. (Dentzer)
Obesity is a condition that happens over time, and with gross negligence. The number of calories a child has to intake in order to gain enough weight to be considered obese is clearly excessive. It is not just improper diet that plays a role in obesity. Children are often unsupervised during the day when their parents are at work. Many children have televisions in their rooms to entertain them and a child with a bedroom TV is 1.5 times more likely to be overweight. (Dentzer) These children are not outdoors playing; they are in doors with video game consoles and bags of chips. How difficult is it to turn off the TV, buy children produce to snack on instead of greasy carbohydrates, and tell them to go outside and play? The course of normal parenting should prevent a child from becoming obese. It is only when parents display deviant, unhealthy habits that the entire family becomes fat.
However, opponents of this argument list several reasons why parents should not be considered neglectful if their children are obese. One of the reasons is that the factors that lead to obesity are caused not by negligence, but a lack of education. Many parents do not understand the role carbohydrates play in causing weight gain. They also do not understand that the television promotes inactivity. Parents want their children to be happy, after all, and many will simply give in to a child who wants to play a video game and snack on cookies because they see it makes the child feel good. Busy moms often may not have enough time to cook proper meals, and rely on fast food for their children’s nutrition. Many parents of obese children are also overweight themselves. Often a family culture involves traditional meals passed down from grandparents, togetherness, and a love of eating. Overweight parents do not see anything wrong with their children being a reflection of them. Many are quite positive, using affirmation that they are beautiul and worthy and that being plus sized does not necessarily equate ill health. Many also state that obesity is genetic, and not something that can be controlled by diet. Still, many parents do recognize that their lifestyle needs to change, and want to seek help. They just do not know where to go and what steps to take. Major lifestyle choices require time, effort, and education to which many busy parents lack access. Also, poor families often cannot afford to purchase a large quantity of produce. Refined grains are much cheaper to feed hungry children on a tight budget. Subsidizing of refined sugars and grains has caused the prices of these foods to drop, while prices of produce have rise 17 percent. (Dentzer)
All the above issues are valid and should be addressed. Food is expensive, and feeding a family is not cheap. However, with a bit of research into menu planning and budgeting –many moms clip coupons – families can begin to transition to more healthful eating. Families that have a bit of outdoor space can start a small vegetable garden to supplement their diet. Education on nutrition is free with access to the internet or public library, and exercise costs nothing. A jog around the block or an exercise video in the living room does not cost big bucks. Parents who think big is beautiful are suffering from denial – if they are honest with themselves they squarely face the heath consequences of being obese. While it is true many bigger people are very active, that is the exception, not the rule. The fact is that creating a lifestyle for children that involves a healthy diet of whole foods including produce, unrefined grains, and lean meats takes time and effort. Encouraging children – and even requiring – them to exercise and play means parents have to take the time and energy to shut of the TV, refuse to buy video games and make their children participate in outdoor play and sports. This is a duty of parenthood, along with providing education, clothing, and shelter. Parents who abrogate this duty from laziness, ignorance, or willful blindness are guilty of negligence, and steps should be taken to intervene.
Parents who are guilty of negligence in causing their children to be obese need to be addressed. While the solution is not to throw them in jail, strong measures should be taken. Just as many law breakers are required to attend classes or participate in community service, and parents who have been found neglectful by the government have to take steps to prove they can provide a home, parents of obese children should be required to engage in educational activities and develop a plan of action that includes a family doctor to address and improve the lifestyle of their children. In this way, we can begin to save society billions of dollars in health care costs, and extend the life expectancies of millions of people.
Cdc.gov,. 'CDC - Obesity - Facts - Adolescent And School Health'. N.p., 2014. Web. 9 Oct. 2014. From http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm
Dentzer, S. 'The Child Abuse We Inflict Through Child Obesity'. Health Affairs 29.3 (2010): 3 42-342. Web. 9 Oct. 2014. From http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/29/3/342.full.pdf+html
Perryman, Mandy L. 'Peer Reviewed: Ethical Family Interventions For Childhood Obesity'. Preventing chronic disease 8.5 (2011): n. page. From http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181199/