Childhood Obesity–A Form of Child Abuse?

The month of April is recognized as Child Abuse Awareness Month.  There are many forms of child abuse—sexual, physical, verbal and emotional abuse all of which damage children to the core.  Local organizations that advocate for the protection of children have been doing a great work in increasing awareness to this problem.

The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), defines child abuse and neglect as: “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation.” An article published by the Child Welfare Committee, defines Emotional abuse (or psychological abuse) as a pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth.

Keeping that definition in mind, it occurred to me that maybe childhood obesity could be viewed as a form of child abuse. An overweight child has an increased risk of becoming an overweight adult.  An overweight child has an increased risk of developing many of the chronic diseases associated with being overweight—early onset of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and more.  But, one of the more imminent problems of being overweight as a child is the emotional abuse they have to endure from their peers.

Overweight children usually suffer from low self-esteem and bullying, behavioral and learning problems as well as depression.  They are constantly criticized, teased and rejected by their peers.  This form of abuse can cause tremendous damage to a child’s soul and may have irreparable damage to the person they become.

During the Let’s Move! Campaign launch in 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama said, “The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.”  I echo these sentiments because the children are our future.  I understand the need to want to give your children what you didn’t have or the intense urge to make them happy by giving them the foods they love in large portions; however, I also understand that as parents, we have to ensure that they learn healthy eating habits while young so that they don’t suffer from the same problems we are now facing as adults.

I am aware that the term “abuse” has negative connotations associated with it, but my aim in this article is to help you understand and make you more aware of some of the social and emotional problems associated with being an overweight child.  If you think your child may be overweight and would like some help, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician or with a dietitian to get some helpful tips.