Parents who allow obesity ‘guilty of neglect’

By staff

Parents who consistently fail to address their child’s obesity should be prepared for child protection officers to step in, medical experts have argued.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, a group of childcare experts said that while it would be difficult to argue that obesity itself warrants child protection, those parents who fail to do anything about the problem should face state intervention.

The group, led by Dr Russell Viner at the UCL Institute of Child Health in London, reviewed existing evidence and proposed a framework for practice.

The authors found a distinct lack of evidence on the issue and said child protection actions are not warranted for childhood obesity alone or failure to control weight.

“The aetiology [causation] of obesity is so complex that we believe it is untenable to institute child protection actions relating parental neglect to the cause of their child’s obesity” or “to criticise parents for failing to treat it successfully, if they engage adequately with treatment,” they wrote.

However, they did conclude that a consistent failure by parents to change lifestyle and engage with professionals or with weight management initiatives would constitute neglect.

This is of particular concern if an obese child is at imminent risk of disorders like obstructive sleep apnoea, hypertension, type 2 diabetes or mobility restrictions, they wrote.

Where child protection concerns are raised, the authors suggested that obesity is likely to be one part of wider set of concerns about the child’s welfare.

They even went so far as to suggest that obesity may be a clue revealing more severe forms of neglect or even abuse.

“In all areas of child health, we have a duty to be open to the possibility of child neglect or abuse in any form,” they concluded.

“Guidelines for professionals are urgently needed, as is further research on the outcomes of child protection actions in obesity and links between early adversity and later obesity.”