Ignoring childhood obesity is a form of neglect

By now, you probably know how much I love the U.K.—and particularly, their sensible approach to healthcare.  

While doing some of my medical school training there, it was always interesting to see their perspective on how to stretch healthcare dollarsand how to find ways to make the public healthier, rather than just slapping expensive bandaids on them when they got sick. 

So today, I want to tell you about a debate over childhood obesity that’s currently happening across the pond. Apparently, healthcare providers and social workers are divided over whether this increasingly common issue warrants child protective services  

Calling a spade a spade 

I have to say, I never considered this issue myself. But frankly, it does make a great deal of sense. 

When a parent allows their child to become obese, they’re doing them harm—in many ways, irreparably. That’s just a cold, hard fact. After all, childhood obesity is a comorbidity for kids, too not only for COVID-19, but also for diabetes and heart disease. Worse yet, statistics suggest that if you’re obese by the age of ten, there’s almost no chance that you’ll ever not be obese.  

So, researchers set out to explore these considerations in practice.  

However, there was one overarching challenge: The criteria for referring a child into protective services for obesity were not clear at all. Primarily because value judgments were a bigger driver than independent medical assessments when it came to determining the threshold of neglect. 

This isn’t surprising. Because in my own experience, the decision to intervene with a patient’s weight at any age is clouded by the doctor’s own biases.  

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, doctors are not immune to being overweight and obese themselves—sthey may not even perceive it as a problem. (I, on the other hand, was an obese child and young adult—so I admit that I may be overly sensitive to this particular issue.)   

Nevertheless, the call to child protective services has been made before. But only in 2014, it appears, when records show that 70 children were taken into care for neglect due to obesity…  

Childhood obesity may cause long-term harm 

Allow me to paint you a picture here. Years ago, I was on the Maury Povich show. (Remember him?) And I shared the stage with a 3yearold—yes, a 3-year-old—that weighed more than I did.   

In fact, there was only one child on the show that didn’t weigh more than me. (At least, not yet.) And it was a toddler whose mother would chew up food from McDonald’s and drop it into her child’s mouth like a bird.   

Now, I realize there was some sensationalism in play here for ratings. But I bring this story up because I had never even considered that this child was being abused. When in reality, he surely was.   

Even if a child loses the weight in adulthood—and as I mentioned earlier, that rarely happens—childhood obesity is likely to cause long-term harmThis is a fact and yet we often do very little about it.   

So really, if these children don’t need protection, I don’t know who does. But framing the issue this way places the responsibility solely on the family. And, well… that’s tricky territory.  

No one wants to remove children from homes and break up families over food. And it would be hypocritically cruel to do so, when our own government enables the food, beverage, and agricultural industries to exploit Americans of all ages for profit.   

But these experts all agreed on one thing: When families either failed to acknowledge the problem, or they didn’t accept the support services offeredthen that constituted neglect. And you know what? I couldn’t agree more.  

So, as I regularly advise, eat well—and teach your children (and grandchildren) to eat well, tooOpt for whole, unprocessed foods like lean meats, fresh fruits and veggies, and nuts. After all, adopting a healthy, balanced diet can be easy, fun, and delicious. If you need some guidance, my A-List Diet book provides countless recipes and insights. But I also encourage you to take a look at my book, Feed Your Kids Well. 


“Division Remains Over Whether Child Obesity Should Be a Child Protection Issue.” Medscape Medical News, 09/10/2020. (medscape.com/viewarticle/937151)