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Should Parents of Obese Children Be Charged for Neglect?

Are parents responsible for keeping their kids skinny? While parents can be charged for neglect if they don’t provide adequate treatment for chronic illnesses, such as asthma, diabetes, and epilepsy, a new article in the British Medical Journal suggests that obesity should be added to that list.

“We suggest that childhood obesity becomes a child protection concern when parents behave in a way that actively promotes treatment failure in a child who is at serious risk from obesity and when the parents or carers understand what is required, and are helped to engage with the treatment programme.” (“Programme” because they’re Brits!)

The researchers suggest that parents with obese children should be separated, but it seems unlikely to me that that would help fight obesity. Already, one out of three children in care programs are obese or overweight.

While nothing like that is being proposed in the States, it does raise an interesting hypothetical situation. Should parents be held legally accountable for their children’s obesity?

From The Guardian.

38 Responses to “Should Parents of Obese Children Be Charged for Neglect?”

  1. paschott

    Ugh, no. That's all we need is lawsuits taking kids from their parents because the kids are obese. I've done foster care. I understand that people are concerned about the health of a kid, but this is just not a good reason to take kids from their families or to bring charges against parents. We have a lot more serious issues that should be dealt with – neglect, abuse, etc.

    I don't even necessarily see how this would help. You're just adding to the stress level of a kid who is already fighting a battle with obesity. Comfort foods will likely be a natural consequence there.

    This is just a horrible idea sponsored by more (hopefully) well-meaning people who don't have to personally deal with the fallout of their ideas.

  2. Eric - BHF

    While I think its terrible parenting, I don’t think we want the government even more involved in our families. Also, these children have there agency, you can’t force a child to eat healthy, but you can provide healthy food and encourage good choices.

  3. Debbie C

    It is poor parenting but I think the government is already far, far too intrusive into our personal and familial lives.

  4. Fritter

    I agree, I do not think they should be charged- but assisted in some way. I used to work in the schools and would love it if funding was available to have counseling with a dietitian or the like for the parents.

  5. Michelle W.

    No way, but I do feel like they should be educated on healthy foods to give their children. Agree with Fritter, there should be some kind of funding to help these parents.

  6. Charity

    I wouldn't charge them with neglect, but they should be sent to parenting classes.

  7. paschott

    So who pays for the classes? Come out of tax dollars? Who mandates that they go? What are the consequences for not going? I think that most parents really know what the "best" choices are for food, but that's not what drives a lot of parents now. Money plays a large part. More people eat cheaper fast food because it's cheap and fast, not good for you. People trying to hold down multiple jobs to make ends meet probably struggle enough right now and have problems w/ cooking healthy meals at home more due to time than anything else.

    The questions really do come down to "who's going to pay for it" and "what are the consequences". If there are no consequences, it's useless to go farther. If there's no funding, ditto. If the consequences are "do this or we take your kids" I think that's getting draconian.

    It's poor parenting. I agree with that. However, I think that for us to sit here and say "they need to be sent to classes or counseling" just doesn't do anything useful. I like the idea of somehow making good food available to people and that could be done somewhat for people who are on government assistance for food, but not so much for people who aren't. Even those on government assistance will find ways around those restrictions – trading that good food for money or similar.

    Ultimately, I think the story that drove this was recommending something way over the top. Another example of people who make recommendations when not connected to reality.

  8. mike

    How about governments making attempts at fixing the root cause of national and global social problems instead of slapping a bandaid on it and pushing blame around while spending copious amounts of money to essentially do nothing… maybe they should regulate the quality of foods available… maybe they should place parents into parenting classes or make parenting classes mandatory in schools (the same way that Spanish was mandatory at my school and I can assure you that Spanish is infinitely more useless than parenting skills)… or maybe, they should just setup a national daycare, say, in Kansas, where every parent in the country could drop off their kids and the government will raise them into the proper little consumer soldier taxpayers that parents are sooooo unwilling to do.

  9. mike

    To clarify slightly, why should 900 calorie fast food kids meals be legal if you're going to punish the people that buy them for their kids? Why should advertising of harmful products toward children be allowed either for that matter? Ever watch the commercials that come on during cartoons? YIKES!

  10. MamaKat

    I don't think that they should be charged with neglect. It really isn't the governments' business. However, I'd hope that pediatrician's would give these parents information or help them find nutrition classes that might help them.

  11. stacy coyer

    I dont think they should be charged with neglect but I do think it is the parents fault if they let their kids eat whatever they want and dont monitor it

  12. breanna

    agree with mike. if we're going to make childhood obesity illegal, then let's approach it from all sides. you have to be 18 to get fast food, or sugary cereal. how about significant tax incentives for local farmers to have programs providing fresh produce to families in their community.

    i completely agree that parents are ultimately responsible, but if the government or anyone else is going to step in, then we need a balanced approach.

  13. Martha Payne

    There's something to be said about genes, but I don't know if there is a childhood obesity gene. I do think a parent should be responsible and pay attention to ensure their child is on a healthy diet and gets plenty of exercize.

  14. Susan Smith

    No they shouldn't be charged with neglect just educated on the correct meals to serve to their children can be healthier.

  15. Tanya Clapshaw

    I have a 12 year old who is overweight. When my son went into middle school, his weight ballooned up rapidly–then I found out it was because he was eating ALL his friends' leftovers! Our family has a hobby farm and I am a stay at home Mom who does all the cooking. We eat mostly organic, whole foods, and the rest of the family is a normal weight. We've joined a gym, started swimming and I know my son will lose weight naturally this summer……but am I bad parent if he stuffs himself with junk in the few hours he's away from me every weekday?

    The government is already involved in many aspects of our lives (and seems to be wanting to be more of a Nanny Nation than ever!). I would encourage schools to have healthy lunches, better exercise, and solid education (including presentations to parents), but I cannot see CSD getting involved unless it is a matter of life or death.

  16. barbara wright

    The last thing we need is some government agency spending millions of dollars to research when child obesity is related to parental "neglect" and when it's not. There are plenty of families where there is one child who is obese and one who is not. A lot of people overeat to assuage something that's missing in their life, so that would be emotional eating, which parents are NOT responsible for. So what's next? We accuse parents of neglect if their child is depressed?

  17. Fritter

    As for the arguemnts in the 'who is to pay' debate…who is to pay? Would you rather pay now for prevention or later for their insurance? I'm not saying I know the answer, but one way or another- we will be paying.

  18. paschott

    Haven't answered the question, though. I don't think that I should pay for (e.g.) the woman who was setting out to be as fat as she possibly could. I also don't think that I should be paying for someone else's insurance, but that's another debate. I also shouldn't pay for classes for someone else that probably won't do anything to change the situation. I disagree that we'll all be paying and I think the government really doesn't need to be involved. Because if they get involved, not only am I paying for the investigators, the educators, the overhead to support the necessary government red tape, but I'm paying _more_ than I would to support any possible insurance overhead that may be incurred.

    This is none of the government's business unless they're going to somehow regulate what people can buy with government money. Read Tanya's comment again – sometimes there is nothing the family can actually do. If the kid leaves the home and scarfs an entire pizza when the parents aren't around, you just can't help that. Education only goes so far and in her case, it doesn't always make a difference. There's a strong element of personal responsibility here that I think is being left out of the equation. Lots of suggestions that parents are mandated to attend classes but who decides who's too fat and must attend? What are the consequences? Who enforces this? Who foots the bill for all of that overhead?

    Seriously, this is not something the government needs to do. It's inefficient and not a good use of taxpayer dollars.

  19. Tzip

    Where do you draw the line at what is considered "irresponsible parenting" which fosters obesity, and normal unhealthful food habits? Is giving your kids a bag of potato chips liable for prosecution?

  20. B. Powell

    As a former obese child myself…It isn't neglect just lack of structure or info…I blame alot of my own lack of self control.

  21. hjm

    I don't see how punishing the parents will help anything. Kids need incentive and obesity is often a matter of not having access to healthy food or time to prepare it. We should be helping give healthy options instead of punishing.

  22. asmithonline

    Wow, great question! I think because the parents have complete control over what the children are eating they are fully responsible for obesity. Charged might be taking it too far but there should be something done to help those kids

  23. carol

    My goodness. I agree with paschott that there are much bigger issues to deal with. It is sad, but there are kids who don't eat, don't have health care, don't get their cavities filled and who are physically abused and neglected. Parents are under enough pressure. I have also worked with the foster care system and fat kids are only a tiny tip of the iceberg of parenting problems we have in this society.

  24. Kris

    I do not think parents can be held responsible for the weight of their child, unless that child is with them at all times. Sitting in a desk at school all day, with snack and unhealthy lunches offered, shortened recess so the kids have more time to get smarter, and gym classes being cut due to lack of funding certainly cannot be laid at the feet of parents. Also, as others have pointed out, times are tough, and a 50 cent box of mac and cheese goes a lot farther than 3.99/lb chicken breast.

  25. vidarica

    I think it's a little extreme to charge the parents, but there is a lot they can and should do to change their children's, and probably their entire family's, eating habits. I worked for a nutrition education program called Operation Frontline ( and saw a lot of this issue firsthand. The odds are definitely against these families, like some of the commenters mentioned. So many lack not only the resources, but the knowledge to be able to make healthy meals for their families. I think the answer to is to empower people to be able to make healthier choices for their family, not to punish them.

  26. P90x

    So informative things are provided here, I really happy to read this post, I was just imagine about it and you provided me the correct information I really bookmark it, for further reading, So thanks for sharing the information.

  27. happy veggie

    Some good points but who is ultimately responsible for our young children? Is it a parent? Is it a child's fault? Is obesity not the number one cause of health problems?

    I wouldn't consider myself highly intelligent, wealthy by any means, or a good cook, but somehow manage to feed myself and my kids good healthy food. I don' really understand why that is difficult.

  28. Kelly K.

    If the obesity is severe enough to cause the child health problems I think it would be more like abuse not neglect.

  29. Peter Stockwell

    Frequently obese children come from obese families. Either the parents do not know what causes obesity, which is ignorance, or they know and don’t care which is abuse. They can be helped to resolve their ignorance – but should abuse be tolerated?

  30. Noah Usher

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  31. Michelle

    I'm fat, but my kids are rail-thin and I can assure you it's not because I monitor what they eat or cook healthy meals for them. They just happen to have super-fast metabolism (as I did when I was their age). My college-age son was never involved in sports and is the computer-type who comes home every day and sits in front of a screen. My daughter started playing sports in middle school, but she's not any thinner for it. My teenage niece, however, has been fat every day of her life. Her poor mom has tried everything and my niece has played all kinds of sports, but it's clear that she will probably never be thin. My heart breaks for her because I've seen her cry when the kids get together because she had to get a teeny tiny piece of birthday cake, and her mom wanted me to "watch her" a slumber parties and such. All of that to say: some of us are NOT good nutritionists, we just got lucky with our kids' metabolism. We're not particularly disciplined – some of us are probably less disciplined. No way should we "charge" parents who are simply fighting a tougher battle than the rest of us. The focus, if anything, should be on changing some things from the top down because if all people suddenly started cooking at home and eating healthy, and bypassing all the junk in fast food restaurants and the 15 center aisles in grocery stores, the economy would crash even more.


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