Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Obesity = Child Abuse?

Connor McCreaddie, pictured with his mother above, is a pleasant 8-year-old boy who lives north of London. British authorities are so concerned about Connor's 218 pound weight that they are considering taking the child into protective custody unless mom "improves his diet." (FoxNews.com)
An unnamed health official was quoted as telling The Sunday Times that taking custody of Connor would be a last resort, but said the family had repeatedly failed to attend appointments with nurses, nutritionists and social workers.

"Child abuse is not just about hitting your children or sexually abusing them, it is also about neglect," the official was quoted as saying.
Child abuse? Now, I admit, I don't know all the details on this case (other than what is in this article). But, child abuse? I know that this boy is overweight. I would even agree with classifying him as clinically obese, but characterizing this as child abuse? I think that's a little of a stretch, don't you think?
Dr. Colin Waine, the director of the National Obesity Forum in Nottingham, England, called Connor's lifestyle "extremely dangerous," adding he is at risk of developing diabetes in his early teens, and cardiovascular and nervous system problems in his twenties. "He's really at risk of dying by the time he's 30," Waine said.

Pediatrician Dr. Michael Markiewicz agreed. "I'm not saying they can't care for him, but what they are doing is through the way they are treating him and feeding him, they are slowly killing him," he said.
Now, don't get me wrong. I am not endorsing this style of parenting (or lack of parenting). And, again, I have to give the disclaimer that I am not a parent myself. But, if childhood obesity equals child abuse leading to taking a child away from a parent, can you imagine the volume and amount of protective custody cases that would take place in the United States?

According to the Institute of Medicine, NINE MILLION children in the United States over six years old are considered obese. From what I understand, the foster care system is overloaded right now. To add another nine million children would add chaos to chaos.

One more thing to think about. What if childhood obesity was changed to childhood asthma? And, the childhood asthma was caused by secondhand smoke, say, from the parents? According to the American Lung Association, "An estimated 400,000 to one million asthmatic children have their condition worsened by exposure to secondhand smoke." Would you consider this child abuse? Are parents "slowly killing" their children as the pediatrician suggests above?

Sorry for the diatribe, but here's my point. Yes, this is an unfortunate situation for this young man. But, for the government to get involved in this situation is riduclous. There has to be another way to solve this other than to separate a mother from her son.

Update (3pm eastern time): Apparently British authorities have backed away from their position to try to remove Conner from his mother - For now...

I also posted a video blog on this same commentary. Check out my sidebar and click on the link to my livevideo site. Videoblogging is still tough, but a new challenge that I'm working on.


Cathy said...

I agree that this is not child abuse. I'm also getting sick of hearing it referenced as so.

There is a problem with obese children that needs to be addressed but its not child abuse. The govt. needs to concern itself with the children who REALLY are victims of child abuse. The ones who repeatedly are sent back to the abusive home and are sometimes hurt very badly or even killed.

Anonymous said...

There are many, many children out there who live with (a) unlimited access to junk food, and (b) no physical activity. While many of them may become obese, very, very few of them become as large as this particular child. His size is not just a function of "parenting", it's also a function of factors specific to this kid (metabolism, temperament, whatever).

If we're calling this "child abuse", then presumably we are talking about some particular abusive behavior on the part of the parents that needs to be changed. It stands to reason then, that anybody who thinks this kid should be removed, thinks that ALL kids in this type of environment should be removed, regardless of the size they end up. That would stretch the fostering system a bit, don't you think?

The whole thing is ridiculous.

Ajitbhai said...

Interesting news for a debate. Labeling it as child abuse may look incorrect,but the intentions behind the action look good.Not only will it help Connor to get into shape and improve his self esteem,but also create a national awareness among parents and children.It is primarily parents responsibility as I doubt children know about calories and weight.

India is undergoing transition to western lifestyles and we are seeing such problems in urban areas.

Flea said...

No, not abuse.



Lea said...

If this was the other end of the spectrum - where this child was not being fed enough, he would be taken away from the environment until the guardian proved the situation was improved.

If the government removed all children from harmful home environments, where there was second hand smoke and unlimited "junk" food for example, 3/4 of all families would be childless.

You can't fix stupid.

Noelle said...

I agree that it's child abuse. But I also agree with Richard Dawkins that letting children believe in god is child abuse. I also think that many parents who cannot afford to have kids are participating in child abuse. Child abuse comes in many forms, and I don't know how the state can do any better, because removing a child from an otherwise loving home can be considered a form of child abuse.

OHN said...

hmmmm..Not abuse in the typical sense but I do think that there is a line between good parenting and neglect and this mom is close to crossing it. I think the thing that offends me the most is that ignorance is used as an excuse. In this day and age nobody should be able to use stupidity as a reason for ignoring any of your childs health concerns...be it obesity or asthma, JRA, diabetes or any number of health problems.

Cory said...

I have to say that I'm divided on this case. I want to see more info on it though. I think the child (and parents) need help to get his weight under control, but there are lots of possible reasons for his weight to be so high. It does seriously suck that his parents aren't trying though....

Visionary & Medium Extraordinaire said...

I say this is 'Chile Abuse'
Love your child to Death!

It's going back to the responsibility of i.e. tobacco companies, junk food industry.
Regulations within the food industry is stricter in Europe than in the US.
I had a brother who always was large, and today he still suffers for that. He has never been able to take off the weight he gained when very young.

I think the mother should be mandated to attend some sort of an education course to have her understand the consequences.

A person who is suffering from Anger is often sent to Anger Management classes.

She's loving her son to death, not teaching him boundaries, and she is creating his long term health issuse.

He also could go and spend the summer at a camp that educated children about health and nutrition. If they don't take charge of it now, he'll be a financial burden on the health care system in the UK

You can fix stupid, with education.

Killing this boy with love, should not be just a slap on the wrist.
I don't think one sort of childabuse is worse than another. It's all bad, and it should all be approached with the same seriousness.

Stephanie said...

There is a part of me that agrees that this type of parenting is borderline abusive. No, it's not part of the traditional definition of abusive, but it is still extremely harmful, and will likely have long-term effects on the child.

Some type of intervention was definitely needed. Times Online quotes a National Health Service source as saying that the mother missed several appointments to bring her son to see a variety of specialists. Isn't that a form of neglect? It's definitely irresponsible.

That aside, I'm still unsure about the "removing the child from his home" part though...

Anonymous said...

I think we need to be careful what we label as abuse. To label this child's situation as abuse weakens the word's meaning we also use to describe what happens to countless children around the world beaten and almost killed..or worse..killed. When we call both beating a child and overfeeding a child abuse..we water down it's meaning. Lots of things could be labeled as abuse...but shouldn't be. These are the same folks that think spanking your child in disciple (not beating...real correction) is abuse. As a home school parent (that yes believes in God..as do my own teenagers) we hear of stories of parents who are reported to child protective departments for abuse JUST because they home school. (yes, even in THIS country) (HSLDA) Am I tired of things being labeled as abuse that really shouldn't be? Yes and Amen.muddy

Sara said...

This kind of treatment of a child IS child abuse. But the government stepping in is also abuse and would be incredibly traumatic for a child. A parent has a responsibility to educate him/herself about proper nutrition and not give in to emotional desires of the child. Children are feral little creatures who exist solely on id - they want what they want. The parent must be rational - if not, the parent is being a child too - and it IS abuse. www.marksdailyapple.com for a good rant about food marketed to kids.

Dr Michelle Tempest said...

Thanks for this post - I was also speaking about this topic today. I especially like your point about second hand smoking. Great blog. All the very best. Michelle

N=1 said...

SPS vs DPS: stupid people syndrome vs dangerous people syndrome. Almost every trauma victim is either a perpetrator of or victim of a person acting stupidly. This child appears to be one whose parents aren't using the best judgement. But where's that line in the sand for stupid vs. dangerous?

Actually, it seems to me that the question is over the time frame of the risk. Abuse seems to me to be the intentional placement of a child in actual or imminent harm's way or intentionally inflicting the harm.

But in this case, as well as other cases where a matter of degree is in question, it appears that the risk is over a long time period, and the outcome is more uncertain.

I'd rather educate and alleviate precipatory conditions instead of entering the criminal justice system. That's where mental illness service gaps have led, and I can't see where any good has come of that.

What happens to the child if he's removed? Are there homes with all of the health, nutirtion and activity needs waiting, along with loving foster parents? What trauma from the removal would have to be overcome?

Not abuse, but not an acceptable status quo, either.

MrTwix said...

Child neglect is a form of child abuse. Mom, in this case, is neglecting to provide an atmosphere that encourages positive eating behaviors. She can make whatever excuses she wants as to the kids' eating habits but the fact remains that the kid is extremely overweight compared to other kids his own height and age.

The long range consequences are deadly serious for this young man. Morbid obesity does enormous psychological and physical damage to the mind and body. Kids, and many parents, don't understand this. It may be 'cute' today when junior can scarf down a whole box of Twinkies. I can assure him that he won't be laughing as he approaches high school and the inevitable gym class.

Mom is doing her son no favors.

The fact remains, if you were doing this much damage by physically beating your child, you can bet Child Protective Services would be knocking at your door. Allowing your kid to eat as this kid is is akin to physically beating his body. His heart, lungs, and other vital systems are working harder than they ever should at 8 years of age. Should he keep this pace up, his body will be worn out by the time he hits his early 20's... if he lives that long.

In the end, parents are to nurture their children as best they can. Nurturing does not include allowing a child to make his own decisions at age 8. This includes dietary decisions.

I consider this a form of abuse. Yet, removing the kid from the home will not necessarily accomplish anything. Court mandated intensive therapy and education on unhealthy, and healthy, eating habits, along with the risks and benefits associated, would seem a better solution. Monitoring his weight, and creating a diet program to shed the weight, is an important step.

Unfortunately, both mom and kid are playing with fire unless they take proactive steps to reverse his current eating behaviors.

Thomas said...

Just let the parents keep poking food in. When their child develops severe health issues from being morbidly obese, they can sue the fast food companies that they bought food from.
Victims of their own making.

While taking the child away may not be the answer, there should be stiff penalties if the parents are taught how to help their child and they don't follow up.

I do have children and I can't imagine imparting poor eating habits to her for any reason. Some folks have no business having kids.


scintor said...

Connor McCreaddie has a genetic syndrome which causes him to be both abnormally tall as well as abnormally heavy. If you pay attention to his statistics stated in the story, you might notice that as well as being heavy, he is nearly a foot taller than an average child his age. There are plenty of diets that can cause someone to be overweight. There is no diet in the world that can cause a child to grow a foot taller than normal by age eight.
How do I know that he has a genetic disorder and is not just a glutton? I have a child that is just a few months younger than him that could be his twin. Other than hair color, they look identical. He was born right at average length and weight, but by his two month check-up he was off the charts and has stayed that way.
After taking him to numerous doctors who had no idea what was wrong with him, we finally ended up at the genetics department of Children's Hospital of San Diego. The doctor ran many tests and concluded that he has a genetic disorder. Unfortunately, it is not a common enough disorder to have been named or studied, much less a cure or treatment to have been found.
His mother and I been have been married and together all of his life, and have worked constantly on his weight issues all of his life to no avail.
I cannot speak for Connor but my son has mild Autism and it is very difficult to change his habits. We have been working very hard to add foods to his diet, but have had very little success. He does dislike new foods, he is afraid of them.
If you will notice from the story, Connor does not eat large amounts of sweets and treats, but large amounts of meats. This is not something that a self indulgent glutton does. His mother also states that he is constantly hungry. Again, this is not consistant with the glutton. Gluttons eat when they are bored or anxious, not when they are hungry. (This has been shown in scientific studies.) There are gluttons around who are overweight because of personal habits, but if you look carefully, Connor does not seem to be among them.


Anonymous said...

Wew, until that last post, I'd feared all reason had left the planet. If I may share my recent blog posts, perhaps they will add some food for thought that has largely not been part of the public debate on this issue:

Having been witness to the incredible amount of misinformation about childhood obesity and the prejudice rampant among healthcare professionals and child protective agencies concerning fat children, specifically the same ones named in Campos' article (yes, the exact same thing is continuing to happen behind closed doors and those children were not suffering any medical crises due to their weight, but what the families and children were put through was more than a nightmare to witness), I can attest that we must all step back and beyond our beliefs and the spin given by the media and understand that we don't have all of the facts in this case, and that we need to understand the science behind these children for their sakes and those of other children. Balance is desperately needed. If not that at least compassion. What heartbreak this family must be going through. I cannot imagine that this little boy would ever want to show his face at school. What he must be enduring is unimaginable.

Mary said...

Child abuse? Hmmm. And then the Gov't wants to step in and take the said child. Interesting provided the same Gov't allows food manufacturers to put things in our food such as MSG that contributes to weight gain. The sugar substitutes in "diet" foods also contributes to weight gain. Obesity runs rampid thanks to our food sources. And it is not only the children but adults that suffer, too. If the Gov't wants to help obese children, leave them in their environments and go after the food industry. OOOPS! That'll never happen since there are giant profits tied up in the food industry. So it's easier to go after the parents and break up homes.

Dr Dork said...

Perhaps the removal of the child is overly reactionary.

This child is suffering more from neglected care than abuse. It is still extremely poor parenting. He is morbidly obese. His lifespan has been greatly diminished.

He is being harmed very significantly through his parents actions - they put the food on the table, give him his snack money and so on.

But the parents presumably mean well, and are killing with kindness due to their lack of basic boundaries and probable ignorance.

I think it is a form of abuse. Comparatively mild. Supportive intervention would be beneficial. Sending the kid off to fosterage won't help. Education treats ignorance, not isolation.


Moof said...

Dr. Anon, I have to chime in on this one. The line has to be drawn somewhere. These agencies (here in the states) have practically no oversight whatsoever. The individuals, many of them untrained, can intrude themselves into a family, make unreasonable demands of that family, define something they don't approve of as child abuse, and break up the family.

Once it's done, there truly is abuse, because children are permanently scarred by being removed from the only family they know, from their homes, and from everything and everyone that they're familiar with. That's abuse.

I have seen situations where the parent(s) really did need to not have children in the house - babies asleep on the floor, where they dropped exhausted, in the wee early hours of the morning, because their parents never put them to bed - and youngsters whose parents were so challenged that they couldn't even get their kids up and ready for school in the morning beyond the first few weeks of school. Those children were neglected/abused, and could possibly have been less damaged by being removed from their home than by remaining in it.

But child obesity?

What about the person in the comment section who said: "letting children believe in God" is abuse? There are a lot of ideas on what constitutes abuse. We have to draw a line somewhere.

Spider63 said...

It might be healthier for the child, but never-ending government intrusion into the personal lives of people is very dangerous. At some point we are all just cattle.

Anonymous said...

it is abuse cause neglect is abuse and not taking care of your kids is well abuse

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely 100% abuse! The parent has knowingly neglected their childs health, period. What this child has to look forward to is diabetes, high blood pressure and cholestrol, and a butt load of other health problems associated with obesity. How the hell can anyone call this LOVE? The parents might as well quit giving them immunizations while they are at it...

Anonymous said...

Look this is very much so a form of child abuse. Yes, the child is not being "abused" but neglect is not parenting to a full 100%. If a child is beat, it is abuse because they are hurt. OK... what about when your 7,8,or9 year old child weighs more than you, and has a heart-attack at age 14, which happend in the town I live in. Then is it abuse when they are in the hospital fighting for their lives? Putting medical reasons aside, who in this world would want their kids to be teased and laughed at everyday at school, at the park, during sports. Lets face it the world is cruel and no child will be abel to live an easy life being Obese.

hyperhidrosis said...

I understand there are health issues there that causes extreme weight gain, but that does not excuse the mother for allowing her son to eat large quantities of junk food. The mother became uncooperative by not attending meetings or talking to doctors..

childhood obesity health problems said...

I think this is important issue for kids, the high nutrient food is better for kids