The British Medical Association recently rejected a motion to label “childhood obesity” as “parental neglect”, but that’s apparently doing nothing to protect fat children. Yesterday an eight-year-old girl in the UK was reported to be removed from her home for being fat.
This is shocking and infuriating on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin.
I guess I’ll start with their underlying assumption that it is “parental behaviour that leads to childhood obesity.” It’s not. Which they would know if any of them bothered to read the literature. From a recent review in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society Understanding the Aetiology of Childhood Obesity:
The results of twin studies indicate that the heritability for BMI is approximately 0.70, approaching that for height…Surprisingly, studies of adult twin pairs tend to find shared environmental effects [e.g. home environment] to be extremely small, indicating that most of the environmental influences on weight are unique to the individual. Adoption studies provide the strongest evidence, because children grow up sharing a home environment with family members to whom they are genetically unrelated. They find similar results: adults who were adopted at birth do not resemble either their adoptive siblings or their adoptive parents in adiposity.
So, yes, what the mother’s pleading for us to understand is absolutely right, weight is mainly genetic. When people see fat parents with fat kids, the conclusion they jump to – that the fat parents “teach” their children to be fat – is wrong.
It’s true genetics is not the only determinant of weight – it’s just the overwhelming determinant. But the remainder, “the environment,” – which we’re led to believe is code for “a bad lifestyle” or “parents neglecting their children” – is NOT code for these things. “Environment” means everything that is not purely genetic. All the infinite variables which affect each of us differently. And it includes variables like prenatal environment – which has an important impact on future weight and growth – but which aren’t exactly things even the most diligent parent can go back and change.
So, no, you can no more look at a child and know what the parents are doing than you can look at a fat adult and know what their lifestyle is like.
But these people think they can, because they’re ignorant. And the justification given for ripping this child from her family is positively psychotic:
[a child’s weight] may not be an immediately life-threatening issue, but it can affect a child’s life chances, their potential and long-term health. If we can do something about that we should.
Even if you believed the fantasy that a foster home can take a fat child and magically make her permanently thin, I can’t imagine how spectacularly stupid or delusional you have to be to think that forcibly taking a eight-year-old from her parents can improve her “life chances” or “potential.” On the other hand, if their goal is to “traumatize her for life,” then they’re maybe on to something.