BMA rejects call for parents of obese children to be charged with neglectBMJ 2007; 334 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39259.602245.DB (Published 28 June 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:1343
Doctors' leaders called for more measures to reduce obesity in children by voting for a reduction in the speed limits on roads near schools, which they believe will encourage more children to walk to school. But they rejected a call for parents of obese children aged under 12 years to be charged with neglect, and one representative described the proposal as mad.
Steve Watkins, of the BMA council, whose motion to urge parliament to debate the wider use of 20 miles per hour (32 kilometres per hour) speed limits was passed by representatives, noted that driving at 40 rather than 20 miles per hour saved only a few minutes in the average journey time. “We are killing our children for three minutes,” he said.
The curtailment of children's freedom of movement over the last 20 years had “replaced free range children with battery reared children reared in cyberspace, and that's the reason for the epidemic of childhood obesity,” said Dr Watkins.
Representatives also voted by a large majority to reinforce the BMA's policy calling for a ban on the advertising of unhealthy food to children and for less salt, sugar, and hydrogenated fats to be added to pre-prepared foods. But they agreed with Andrew Rowland, from the Junior Doctors Committee, who said that referring parents to child protection agencies would “do more harm than good and undo all the good work that can be done to help children who are obese.”
Steve Burns, from Rotherham, who backed the introduction of legal measures against parents whose children are obese, told the conference, “If parents will not or cannot take responsibility to provide the right diet and encourage exercise for their children after engaging with doctors and dietitians, we believe that this is a form of child neglect. If the child's health is at risk they should be removed from their parents for their own protection.”
However, Laurence Buckman, deputy chairman of the General Practitioners Committee, called for representatives to reject the proposal to make criminals of parents who could not curb their children's appetites, calling it “the maddest idea” and “bonkers.”
He asked, “Can the proposers of this [part of the motion] tell me how turning parents into pariahs and taking their children into care is going to help fat children get thin? Can they explain how parents of fat children will be able to get advice on how to slim their obese offspring if their first fear is that the NHS will help take their kids away from them? Do we want illness inducing obesity turned into a commodity that has political value? Surely overweight people need education, advice, [and] encouragement, and those who have a part to play [in reducing obesity] need the same.”
Dr Buckman also opposed the part of the motion calling on the government to make schools provide exercise facilities. He argued that without enough funding such a requirement would do no good.
“Of course schools should encourage healthy living, and exercise is part of that. Making them do it with no money is going to detract from the education they offer and is going to look like we want them to help the unfit when they should be helping the uneducated,” he told the meeting.