Childhood obesity: are parents really to blame?

19 Jul 2012

Should a child's obese body be used as evidence to support their removal from their parents' care? Asks Darren Powell in The Conversation.


According to a recent report in The Age newspaper, the Children’s Court of Victoria thinks so. Victoria’s Department of Human Services (DHS) has cited a young person’s obesity in at least two child protection cases this year.

A spokesperson for the DHS told The Ageobesity was not of itself grounds for child protection workers to become involved with a family. Nevertheless, the fact that obesity was used as evidence at all demonstrates that a child’s obese body is considered proof of abusive or neglectful parenting. But should it be? Both Victorian children seem to have been placed into care, in part, because their mothers contributed to their obesity. The teenage girl was allowed to eat too much, while the boy’s medical intervention had failed because his mother let him sit “in his room, eating and inactive”.

The courts and DHS assumed that if these children had different parents – or no parents at all – they would not be obese. The central argument in these two cases is that the parents have neglected their child’smedical needs: the need to not be obese. Indeed, much of the debate around this issue (and childhood obesity in general) frames obesity as a medical problem that may be solved by medical intervention – including hormone treatment, medication and surgery – and of course, by making healthy lifestyle choices.  

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Image: minqul / flickr

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