Childhood obesity is an epidemic in America, with more than one-third of all children and adolescents either overweight or obese. Imagine if each one of their parents were held accountable. A couple in the United Kingdom has been arrested for neglect and child cruelty for letting their 11-year-old son become obese.
After the 210-lb. boy was treated at the Queen Elizabeth hospital twice in March, doctors contacted the police under suspicion of child neglect. The 49-year-old father and 43-year-old mother were both questioned, to which the pair insisted that they were trying to keep their son at a healthy weight and encouraged him to exercise regularly.
"My son has always been big. Everyone on my side of the family is," said his father, according to The Guardian. Genetics aren’t the real issue here. The police spokesman said that the officers from the child abuse investigation unit are working closely with health and social services in order to treat the case with as much sensitivity as possible, considering the rare circumstance.
"While it is inappropriate to comment on this case specifically, it is important to stress that intervention at this level is very rare and will only occur where other attempts to protect the child have been unsuccessful," the spokesman said.
The parents voluntarily arrived at the police station where they were interviewed. However, it wasn’t their first visit. They were arrested in March on suspicion of child neglect and cruelty under section 1 of the Children and Young Person Act of 1933.
The act protects children under the age of 16 from “cruelty and exposure to moral and physical danger.” The Act is intended to prevent willful assaults, ill-treatment, neglect, abandonment, or unnecessary suffering or injury to health, or else the accused could be imprisoned for up to 10 years in addition to fines.
In section A, it clearly specifies the reasoning for the recent arrest: “A parent or other person legally liable to maintain a child or young person shall be deemed to have neglected him in a manner likely to cause injury to his health if he has failed to provide adequate food, clothing, medical aid or lodging for him.”
The key basis for arrest is “adequate food.” A child will not become obese unless they have an obscure medical condition that would have been noted by the hospital. The 11-year-old boy had a body mass index of 39.7 for his particular height and weight. Obesity is measured 30 or greater, with a normal weight lower than 25.
“The idea that they could take away my son scares me so much. I’m nothing without my kids,” his mother told the newspaper. Obesity puts children at serious health risks, with increased likelihood of a high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, certain cancers, and mental and emotional tolls such as social and psychological problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children are especially susceptible to stigmatizations, bullying, and poor self-esteem.
“He’s always been big. He was born with shovels for hands and spades for feet. Everyone on my side of the family is big. There’s nothing we can do about it,” the father said. “I only eat occasional kebabs. Our son’s favorite snack is steamed broccoli — and he’s still big,”
Prevention is the key, and healthy lifestyle habits including eating nutritiously balanced meals and participating in physical activity significantly lower the risk of a child becoming obese regardless of the genetic susceptibility from their parents. Much of this advice is neglected because of recent changes in societal values and priorities. In the last 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the United States alone.
"His weight isn't that much of a big deal. I'm chubby and the whole of my husband's side of the family is big. It's genetics — you can be genetically fat."
The genetic excuse for obesity is considered a myth. A research team from the Medical Research Council’s Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge sought to understand if there was any truth behind genetic susceptibility. After experts reviewed the DNA of more than 20,000 men and women and focused in on certain genes known to raise the risk of obesity, they found that simple physical activity, such as walking the dog and gardening “dramatically” reduced the impact of their genes.
Dr. Ruth Loos, the study’s lead author concluded, “It goes to show we're not complete slaves to our genetic makeup and really can make a big difference to our future health by changing our behavior.”