Is overfeeding your child abuse?
Is an overabundance of food and treats a crime against your children?
(Shawn Benjamin)
Is the sight of an overweight toddler or child a sign of parents who are neglectful or ignorant?

In one British case reported in The Daily Mail late last year, a newborn and her six siblings were taken from the care of their obese mother (who weighed a pretty hefty, but not unheard of 145 kilos or so). Three of the children had already been removed before the baby’s birth, and the parents warned to ensure the remaining kids lost weight. One of the other siblings was a toddler weighing around 25kg. 

This was followed last month by a furore about whether Australian children who were obese should be removed from their families. Although the debate became confused as academics debated who said what, the idea remains: overfeeding your child to obesity can be tantamount to abuse.

In South Africa, studies have previously shown that around 17% of urban children aged 1 to 9 are overweight. The problem is worse in America, where around 11% of children is obese and one in four is overweight.

Changing eating and exercise habits is one of the most difficult things to do, and for parents who themselves are obese, it is often a matter of family lifestyle rather than deliberately overfeeding the children.

At what point it becomes the authorities’ job to step in is debatable. How much policing of our lives do we really want social services to do? As it is there are too many children without parents, we surely wouldn’t want to add to that burden.

Who decides when a child is just puppy plump or dangerously overweight? Do we then also remove children who eat crisps for breakfast, or are allowed to sit on the driver’s lap, or if a parent smokes in the child’s presence?

There could be merit in parents being issued with lifestyle guidelines, as children are at school already. But extreme cases aside, it surely will remain the responsibility of every mom and dad to guide their child into a healthy lifestyle.

How much of being a good parent can and should be legislated?

Read more by Adele Hamilton

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