“That’s crazy!” you may think but before you snap to that reaction let me lay out why I think childhood obesity is child abuse and what I think should be done about it.
From this National Institutes of Health article, Obesity in Children, we know that childhood obesity puts kids at increased risk of “insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, polycystic ovarian syndrome, pulmonary and orthopedic disorders and psychological problems.” and that is just as children.
How does all of this affect these kids?
First of all, chances are they will continue to be obese, “40% of overweight children will continue to have increased weight during adolescence and 75−80% of obese adolescents will become obese adults”[Obesity in Children]. Something that many may not consider is the increased duration of time spent obese that these children will suffer from. This has a much more pronounced effect resulting in a much shorter life, “When obesity occurred by 20−30 years of age there was a 22% reduction in longevity resulting in 17−20 years less life span.”[Obesity in Children]. 17-20 YEARS shorter life span! These obese children are being robbed of up to 20 years of their life!
Second, with all those disease risks the quality of the life they live will be greatly reduced. Instead of going to the doctor for the occasional cold as most young healthy weight individuals do they will have a life of regular doctor visits to manage their diseases and detrimental symptoms.
They will not have the cardiovascular health to enjoy an active lifestyle, which will only compound their problem. When you are obese even minor movements become that much harder. If you have 100 pounds strapped to you how much harder is it going to be to just stand up? Imagine having to carry at least that much weight around with you everywhere you go. How much more likely are you going to be to skip that bike ride, play video games instead of tag, or watch TV instead of going to the park.
Then there’s the psychological affects. Being the fat kid sucks. Your friends run faster, climb higher, beat you in all physical games. The get to wear the cooler clothes that don’t come in your size. Heck they can even hide easier when playing hide and seek. For the obese kid, childhood is marked with booby traps of opportunities for you to become the laughing stock. Yes, we need to teach kids to be compassionate and not bully each other. The reality is though, there will always be some name calling among kids and being obese makes a kid an easy target.
Okay I get it, obesity is bad for kids but you can’t blame the parents, there is such a thing as a genetic predisposition to obesity.
Yes, there is a genetic predisposition to obesity but what does that really mean? It means that certain individuals need to consume less calories to maintain a healthy weight. We can rail against the unfairness of that fact. We can ignore it. Doing either won’t help anyone with their health.
Life is not fair. Some kids learn to read with ease, while some struggle. We don’t say, “I’m not going to teach Johnny to read because our whole family is horrible at it.” We would never choose to keep our kid illiterate. If they struggled with reading we would get them extra help. The same should be true for weight.
It is absolutely worth learning how to change our eating habits so that we can model them to our kids. To learn how to eat the amount of calories our bodies need and not more. To learn which foods will leave us feeling satisfied and nourished and not deprived.
But how would calling this child abuse change anything? How would we punish these parents?
By calling this child abuse we can sentence these parents to a punishment but don’t get up in arms, I am not calling for splitting up overweight children from their loving parents or throwing the parents in jail. I don’t think these parents are being deliberately abusive. I think they need to be educated.
They need to be taught about the horrible health life they are sentencing their children to. They need to learn about nutrition through mandatory classes. Classes that would teach these parents how to prepare healthy nutritious food for their children. How to manage portion size. Which foods should be avoided and what to eat instead. How to buy this nutritious food within a limited budget. They need parenting classes as well. Classes that teach them to focus on the long-term benefits for their kids and not short-term rewards.
I believe very few parents would continue on their destructive path once they were educated. When they learn how they were stealing decades of their children lives and how they can change all that, what parent would not make every effort to?
And if they don’t change? More classes! Hopefully it will eventually sink in but even if it didn’t maybe the time commitment would be enough to motivate the parents to change their ways.