Does allowing one's child to become obese constitute child abuse?

Phrases like "child abuse" are most useful if they pack some punch. When we think of child abuse, what comes to mind are such things as deliberate acts of cruelty, gross neglect, causing serious bodily harm, and sexual molestation. All of those are clear cases of child abuse.

Whether a child ends up obese, however, is a complicated matter. Two children might eat the same diet, and yet one might end up obese and the other not. Parents may have some control over their children's weight, but the decision that one's child will not become obese might not be easy to act on, and acting on it might have its own unfortunate side effects.

This isn't to suggest that childhood obesity is trivial. But obesity is complicated. If it could be easily prevented, and if the way to prevent it was widely understood, then we might say that clear cases of "allowing" one's child to become obese count as a kind of child abuse. As it is, things aren't nearly so straightforward.

On the other hand, there certainly have been cases where social services have removed children from parents where children have become obese, and the parents have been taken to be at fault.It seems to me to be an issue that needs to be considered on a case by case manner. There may be something in the parents' behavior that encourages obesity in the children, in just the same way that a parent may be in trouble with the authorities for letting their child play by a road.

We tend to think that although many parents are not ideal, it is generally better for children to be brought up by them than by removing them and trying out alternative carers for them. There are clearly cases though where parents do not take account sufficiently of the dangerous situations in which they place their children and intervention by the state is then justifiable. Obesity could well be such a situation, especially given the wide range of ailments to which it leads.

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