Tuesday, May 25th, 2011, Dr. Oz hosted an episode of The Dr. Oz Show where the topic of discussion was a round table, of sorts, asking whether or not obesity is a form of child abuse. Now, I didn’t catch it from the beginning – the DVR missed the first ten minutes or so – but considering what I caught, I have my fair share of concerns. (Besides, this blog post has a pretty good recap.) Since I missed the beginning, I don’t want to comment on the show, but I do have a few thoughts on the overall sentiment and the question in and of itself.
Apparently, this situation has happened before, already. A child went to the school nurse for a legitimate reason, and instead of the nurse calling the child’s parent… she called child protective services who then sent notices for the parent to appear in court. Since the parent had moved, she never saw the notices… and this resulted in her losing custody of her obese child.
I find it very interesting that, in a country where 70% of the population is clinically overweight – and even though “bodybuilders/marathoners/athletes are overweight too,” the fact that it’s 70% leads me to believe that more than a few of those people are not, in fact, any of those three – that there is such little compassion for the struggle of weight management that we’d genuinely try to classify “letting your child become overweight” as a form of child abuse.
Mind you, we’re not talking the typical 30-40lbs overweight, however we are still talking about something we consider to be such a serious and drastic issue that we’d remove a child from their home, cause undue stress to the child and basically tell them that the reason they can’t see Mommy anymore is because they’re too fat. Trust me – if a child would flip a divorce into being “about them,” a child will develop insane body issues once they learn the truth behind why they were pulled from their home.
I write a lot about compassion – and more on that tomorrow – because I genuinely believe it’s a key component to being able to continue on in fitness. It’s hard to keep challenging yourself only to watch you fail that day, and expect to keep on challenging yourself with the hopes that you’re one step closer to succeeding tomorrow. That’s hard, and for someone who is overweight, it’s very likely that they’re already hard on themselves. Hell, for anyone new to fitness or someone who’s afraid of embracing working out, it’s far more likely that they will expect results much quicker than they’d come – especially with strength training, because it takes a lil’ while to see any gains – and they’d consider themselves a failure instead of allowing themselves patience and support. Compassion is vital.
I remember when I went back to my old gym – yes, the one I wrote about here – last year to speak to the owner. I wanted to show him that yes, after I left, I kept going and didn’t stop. That wasn’t anywhere near as interesting as the fact that I was watching what appeared to be a girl no older than 10 be trained by him. He was going out of his way to make the entire session out to be about fitness and being more capable of participating in activity, not “being pretty” or “losing that gut” or any of the other cornball crap that trainers tell their clients when they’re trying to get ’em to “dig deep.”
Children are fragile… and observant. If my four year old can catch Mommy flexing her muscles in the mirror, then guess what? She’ll walk around flexing her muscles, too. (And yes, she does.) If a four year old hears Mommy talking enough about “being fat,” then guess what? They’ll start paying extra attention to “fat” on any body… including their own.
I bring this up because when I think of a country where at least half of us are clinically considered overweight, apparently against their will, I think of what mssages we pass on to our children. If we’re “fat” ourselves and have no compassion for “fat” people, what do we pass on to our kids?
This was a point that I did see on Dr. Oz’s show – in a lot of cases, the kids are overweight because the parents are overweight, as well. No parent [who takes proper care of their child regardless of weight issues] intentionally wants to jeopardize their child’s livelihood. In a lot of cases, the child’s weight is a mirror of the weight of the parents, and is simply living out the consequences of the parents’ behavior. It’s not an issue of abuse, unless you want to say that the parents are abusing themselves, as well. (And if you were to say that, I’d implore you to remember – it’s very rare that people even acknowledge sugar/food addiction as a legitimate addiction at all, so you’d be hard pressed to get anyone to understand that.)
There were two girls that Dr. Oz brought out, apparently “success stories” from “Too Fat for Fifteen.” One girl’s mother appeared to be overweight right along with her daughter, and the other girl’s mother was relatively fit which made her feel less-than, further compelling her to overeat. She ran to food for that “comforting” feeling. The overweight mother admitted, openly, that she didn’t like to cook and apparently frequented her local fast food joints for dinner. The thinner mom, who obviously – at least, to me – felt some kind of way about her daughter’s weight regardless of what she said on TV, might’ve been more fit, but you have to question what’s going on in the home to compel the daughter to rush to food for comfort, instead of the people very present in her life every day.
Now, Dr. Oz’s point was that since these two girls were successful by leaving their homes and going to a “wellness camp” to learn about food and weight management, that maybe this is the answer. I disagree. Why? Because the children cannot live at the camp permanently. They eventually have to go home and return to the very same environment that caused them to gain in the first place. That girl still had to go home to a Mom who buys fast food for dinner instead of cooks. The other girl still had to go home to family she couldn’t talk to whenever she became stressed. These things don’t go away. They don’t disappear. And while an adult might develop a sense of will power quicker, I doubt whether or not a teenager or adolescent has the mental agility to do the same without reverting back to those bad habits for the duration of the time they’re in their parents’ homes. Talk to the family, let them know they need to be a judgment-free resource to their child, so that she can get her comfort in the form of hugs, not harmful junk food. Counseling, educating… these things are valuable.
…and really, that’s my point. Removing a child from a home that has the potential to be much healthier with a little bit of education is ludicrous. If you’re going to reach into someone’s home, let it be to offer a hand of support and resource. It’s much more likely that the whole family could use the help, so if we’re going to intervene, that’s the way to do it. If you remove a child from the home and place them in foster care, I’m assuming we’re putting them in a home that’s already been educated on how to care for the child? I’m assuming each of these homes has been taught weight maintenance procedures? Why not simply teach the child in the comfort of their own home and family on how to handle these issues?
I guess that really, what I’m saying is that weight is a complex, multi-layered issue where any state involvement should result in education and support, not splitting up more homes and potentially putting kids in homes (if they, in fact, actually go to a home) that know just as little about wellness as the one they were first in. So no, in my opinion obesity is not inherently child abuse, because everything from money to marketing has left us with inaccurate perceptions of what “healthier lifestyles” looks like and no one has any interest in flat out stating what that’s supposed to look like. Address that with the entire household, and watch those families thank you in the end.