Parents and the Law

In the movement to hold parents of obese children legally responsible for neglect and damage, Connor McCreadie of North Tyneside, England, was “patient zero.” In 2007, the 8-year-old weighed perilously close to 200 pounds, and local government officials noticed. The authorities threatened to “place him in care” as the British say, where he would be one of the LAC, or looked-after children, of whom there are around 70,000 in any given year. But a great many more pass through the system annually, to the tune of about 100,000.

How do they become looked-after children? Why are they nominated for possible removal from their families, and placement into children’s homes, foster care, secure institutions, special placements, or even permanent adoption? Sometimes, it’s because they have already experienced physical and/or psychological trauma and need immediate protection.

Sometimes, it’s because they are deemed to be at risk due to parental instability or neglect. At some point, it became feasible to define obesity as a condition that the state should be concerned with.

British family court judge Stephen Wildblood told a reporter that the mothers whose children are removed from their custody need care and compassion also, because “It is the backlog of profound emotional damage that the mother has suffered that causes the vulnerabilities in her parenting.”

Clinical psychologist Dr. Freda Gardner told the press that the parents suffer trauma and loss, adding, “Many are desperate for help and engage well with the right treatment when it’s provided.” On the opposing side, intolerant critics protest, saying never mind the mothers, just worry about the poor kids.

Journalist Louise Tickle quoted a mother who had lost two children to the system:

I don’t want any more children because if I do, and I managed to keep it, I don’t want Jamie or Harley saying: “Why did you change for that baby, but you couldn’t change for me?”

However, that woman was atypical, and here comes the reason — aside from common humanity and moral duty — why mothers need treatment. Tickle wrote:

It is now well understood that women whose children are taken from them by social services will frequently keep having babies to replace those they have lost… Some women have had four, five, six and more children removed.

In other words, mothers hunger so strongly for their babies that, to fill the emotional void left by the missing child or children, they often reproduce again at the earliest opportunity. Unless circumstances and parenting skills have improved, these substitute babies will also be taken, to replenish the ranks of children brought up on taxpayer funds. So, for the sake of national finances, the incentive to help the mothers get their lives in order should be quite compelling.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Is ‘Fatsploitation’ fuelling the obesity crisis?,”, 07/20/09
Source: “Looked-after Children,”, August 2018
Source: “Are we failing parents whose children are taken into care?,”, 04/25/15
Photo credit: Ermadz X on Visualhunt/CC BY

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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