When a child is dangerously obese, what is to be done? Should the law step in and force families into educational programs and parent training courses? Or should the government physically remove the child into protective custody for a predetermined or indefinite amount of time? This series of posts looks at individual cases and examines the principles behind the various suggested solutions.
Considering the power exerted by uncontrollable factors like advertising, peer pressure, and the general obesogenic environment, how much blame should parents be assigned? Suppose we define negligence as the parents doing nothing to guide an obese child to a better path, while at the same time realizing the negative impact of obesity on the child. But a crucial element is missing. Above all else, a parent needs to realize that their very own particular child is carrying around an unhealthy number of pounds.
Parents can easily be tuned in to the general truth that obesity is dangerous, while maintaining an impenetrable ignorance that, as the horror movie trope warns, “The calls are coming from inside the house.”
A few years back, Dr. David Katz coined the term “oblivobesity“:
It refers to the overweight under our own roofs that we are prone to keep overlooking, most notably that in our own children… Fixing obesity likely depends partly on fixing oblivobesity…
There is something of a Catch 22 contributing to the global obesity pandemic in adults and children alike: we will never fix it if we don’t acknowledge it, and we are disinclined to acknowledge it because we don’t know how to fix it.
What exactly is going on here? One factor in this equation is that so many children are currently overweight, being overweight has, in a sense, become the “new normal.” But mainly, obese children tend to spring from obese parents. Admitting that a child is in this embarrassing kind of trouble would probably force parents to take a long hard look in the mirror and see things they previously avoided seeing.
“Not only do I have to do something about the kid, I have to do something about myself.” This is the type of revelation that people dodge if possible. Because change involves a lot of work!
The Problematic Paradox of Oblivobesity
An astonishing number of parents do not even realize that their kids are clinically obese. We bang on about how much consciousness is being raised by annual Awareness Weeks, and all kinds of articles and programs in the media, and so on.
And yet, as previously mentioned, a study found that “American parents are significantly less likely to make an accurate assessment of their children’s weight compared with parents from an earlier generation.” With most parents not even aware when their own child is afflicted, how could any degree of concern or betterment happen?
Also, even when parents have some theoretical grasp of the harms of obesity, and make a point of trying to educate themselves, conflicting advice is everywhere. And then, there was that Australian study which concluded that “parental identification of child overweight is not protective against further weight gain.”
Dr. Katz said something else worth pondering:
[We] need to differentiate strictly between blame for the problem, and responsibility for the solution.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!