By Wendy Knowlton
Is childhood obesity child abuse? Lindsey Murtagh of the Harvard School of Public Health and David S. Ludwig of the Children's Hospital in Boston present their view that obesity constitutes neglect in the July 13 issue of JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association. They argue that “improper feeding practices, causing undernourishment and failure to thrive, have long been addressed through the child abuse and neglect framework.” As a result, Murtagh and Ludwig argue that state intervention (i.e. child welfare) "may serve the best interests of many children with life-threatening obesity, comprising the only realistic way to control harmful behaviors."
I was livid when I heard about this report on the news. How can someone make such a statement, especially when the price of healthy food is so high? Is it the fault of parents that milk is five times more expensive than pop? Or that fresh fruit and vegetables are more expensive than packaged, processed foods? How dare they presume to take such a stance? I’m sure with their income they don’t have to worry about feeding their children.
I was, however, talking about this article with someone who works in health care. They did not agree with the outlook taken by Murtagh and Ludwig, but they did understand the frustrations some feel about the situation. Health care workers see children who are morbidly obese and they just want to fix the problem. It is a short leap in their logic then, to force the parents into action. If the parents won’t act, they want the government to intervene. They know the health risks that child is running and they just want others to acknowledge those real and immediate dangers.
It gave me a bit understanding of why these doctors made such a statement. I still don’t agree with it, but I do understand their frustration. To me, however, it is a slippery slope. Do we then stop treating people with respiratory illnesses who smoke? How about people who live with someone who smokes? Do we treat someone who is a runner and has torn a calf muscle? Where is the end of this slope? Are our life styles so impeccable that we can judge the lifestyle of others?
Childhood obesity is a huge issue. At Family Matters, we support parents and caregivers in living a healthier lifestyle. We offer healthy snacks at our programs. We partner with Public Health to offer programs that provide cooking, freezing, and canning skills. We have an active living program throughout the year where we introduce new physical activities and take advantage of the resources we have in Annapolis County. We encourage breastfeeding and we offer a place at the Annapolis Valley Exhibition for moms to breastfeed their children in comfort and privacy. We do not judge or condemn, but rather support, offer skills and empower families to make healthier choices.
Building happy, healthy families…
Wendy Knowlton is executive director of Family Matters, Annapolis County Family Resource Centre, located in Lawrencetown.