05/05/2013 20:54 BST | Updated 05/07/2013 06:12 BST

Rendering Children Obese Is Child Abuse

An Oxford Dictionary definition of the word "abuse" is to "use or treat in such a way as to cause damage or harm." There is no mistaking the stark facts: childhood obesity leads to horrors such as various cancers, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, depression and many more.


An Oxford Dictionary definition of the word "abuse" is to "use or treat in such a way as to cause damage or harm." Extrapolating this, it is therefore reasonable to assert that causing damage or harm to, say, young children in the care of adults is abuse. For too long we have heard of the egregious abuse carried out by religious orders -- and other miscreants -- against defenseless children, causing the minors psychological torment that ripples throughout their adult lives. So tormented do these souls become that for some it is too much, and they end them.

On creaking kitchen chairs and overstrained couches in living rooms right across the industrialized, Western world, and a growing slice of the developing world, most notably in rising middle-class parts of Asia, small time-bombs of people are growing, their numbers shooting up as rapidly as their ballooning waists. These children cannot be blamed for what medical tragedies lie ahead of them; their parents shoveling fatty foods into them, and allowing them to graze at will, most definitely can.

There is no mistaking the stark facts: childhood obesity leads to horrors such as various cancers, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, depression and many more. It's not as though these diseases and problems might happen; in many cases they will. Why would you want to set your child up for that? And while they are children, junk-food diets crammed into them are already negatively affecting them. Quite apart from poor body image in which the child may be ashamed of their flab, and taunted at school, bad food in developing children can cause asthma, difficulties with learning and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

(In 2012, 32 percent of children in Britain aged up to 15 were classified as obese; in the United States, the figure is lower, at nearly 20 percent, but still rising alarmingly.)

It is known by medical professionals that fat parents are most likely to overfeed their children (an alcoholic loves company). It is also known that children of fat parents are less likely to engage in physical activities, and much more likely to lead sedentary lives in front of televisions, computer screens and phones, places where a bowl of junk food is easily within reach. Why go anywhere else? Fat children then become fat adults, for what else do they know? The downward spiral is extraordinarily difficult to climb out of.

As with overdoing anything, including alcohol, the more you eat, the more you want to eat, a vicious loop that is life-endangering. It need not be like this. Most people who are fat, obese or morbidly so, are miserable, yet they cannot escape it. Psychological problems aside, they cannot fathom that eating healthily and exercising regularly makes people not only fit but actually happy. Yes, it's good to be slender - everyone wants it - and it's so easily attainable. All it takes is a change.

But for those who are responsible for the diet of young children, their failure to adequately take care of their developing bodies is most surely a tragic abuse and must be addressed by the authorities. Just as any other harm caused to children can result in prosecution, so too must obesity caused to a child be prosecuted. If you can't look after a child, you cannot have them. After all, if you underfeed a child to the point of malnourishment, you will be hauled into court.

Indeed, there are growing calls for parents overfeeding children to be prosecuted, that it be part of child-protection laws, and in fact dozens of such cases have been brought about in the UK in recent years when children have become obese. It makes sense not only for the physical and mental wellbeing of drastically overweight children but also in terms of future healthcare costs, which are significant in treating weight-associated illnesses when scarce funds could be better allocated to non-self-inflicted diseases and conditions.

The National Obesity Forum, a non-governmental organisation in London campaigning for action against obesity, warns that "unless bold action is taken - and quickly - ... 60 percent of the UK population [may become] overweight/obese with a loss to the exchequer of some £50 billion per annum."

It wants obesity to be listed as a "serious medical problem," and says education and training must be provided to combat the crisis. It is also urging the government to prioritise measures to combat obesity around the country.

Our relationship with food must be healthy, not obsessive and therefore detrimental. Humans are not built to eat nonstop, and constant high-calorie at that. It is therefore important that increasing numbers of restaurants and fast-food outlets are placing calorie counters on their products, with some even advising how long it will take to burn them off - a half-hour walk for a sandwich, for instance, a vital step to try and halt the gluttony of overconsumption that is crippling countries.

The bottom line is the old maxim: eat to live, not live to eat - but enjoy what you do consume, and if it's done right, along with plenty of mobility, you'll enjoy life all the more.