This is a guest blog post by Jill Castle MS, RD, LDN
Child abuse is a combination of words that gets your attention. Lately, the term “child abuse” has been linked with the child obesity epidemic.
Broaching the issue in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. David Ludwig, a child obesity expert from Boston, argued that children who are morbidly obese and near death should be considered for removal from their parents, and the environment they live in.
This begs the question: Is ignoring, and therefore allowing, child obesity a form of child abuse?
That’s a tough question to answer, and here’s why:
Studies show that in many cases, parents don’t even recognize that their child is overweight or obese. A study in Preventing Chronic Disease details this low awareness, even among the educated. Researchers found 90% of parents of preschoolers classified their children as normal weight, when in fact they were overweight. And when you look at cultural norms, child obesity recognition can become even more difficult.
If parents don’t see it, how can they help or take action?
Many parents suspect there may be problems with their child’s weight, but don’t know where to turn for help. It is not uncommon for parents to hear the advice, “Don’t worry, your child will grow out of it,” which may undermine their concerns and potentially delay needed help.
If parents are really concerned, they may start combing the web looking for information, only to find a hodge-podge of conflicting, alarming statistics, information, and a lack of actionable steps. Or parents take things into their own hands, adopting adult practices such as dieting or a forced march to the gym, all in an effort to reverse their child’s weight. And this gets parents caught up in practices that may be counter-productive to producing a healthy weight, such as restricting, pressuring or controlling their child’s eating.
And then there’s the obesogenic environment (fancy term for the prevalence of large amounts of calorie-dense foods, sedentary-promoting activities and commercialism that encourages eating) which makes it challenging for even the most educated, nutrition-savvy folk to navigate.
And lastly, there’s intention. Most parents I know never intended for obesity to enter their family. In fact, a big fear amongst parents is that they will have an obese child, or somehow contribute to this situation in some way.
Child obesity is complicated. Reversing it is even harder. Preventing it may prove to be the trickiest of all.
It’s not about eating, folks, it’s about feeding kids. And we haven’t been giving parents the “on the job” training they need: education, resources and support to do a good job of feeding their kids. After all, it is an 18+ year job.
When parents know about feeding their kids (what to feed them, how to feed them, and why to feed them), they have a better chance at recognizing child obesity, advocating for help when their child needs it, discerning helpful from hindering nutrition information, and navigating the obesogenic environment.
Whether you are for or against the child abuse connection, children are surely the victims.
Jill Castle is a child nutrition expert, blogger at Just The Right Byte, speaker, nutrition consultant and private practice owner. She lives with her husband and 4 children in Nashville, TN.