If you drove to a local elementary school, the kids you would be staring at are the first generation of children expected to die at a younger age than their parents. Medical technology is quickly advancing every year, but remains unable to counteract the growth in American waistbands. Rising trends in obesity and a lack of exercise are predicted to decrease the American lifespan.
The current state of obesity is appalling. Almost two-thirds of adults are overweight and 16 percent of American adolescents are overweight or obese. Childhood diabetes has been steadily increasing since it briefly plummeted in the early 1990s. But don’t get too excited; the drop was due to a change in the definition. Given the current trends and costs for treating complications brought about by obesity, being overweight is the most serious health problem of our generation.
In New York, the courts attempted to hold someone responsible: the parents. New York Family Court ordered the removal of a child from the custody of her parents because they were unable to comply with a court-ordered diet and exercise program. Since the order, the girl gained 25 pounds. The ruling was later repealed in an Appellate court when it was found that the child’s parents did not deliberately violate the order since they took her to the gym once a week and most of her weight was gained due to school cafeteria food.
While slightly misguided, the family court made two excellent points. Responsibility lies with the parents when it comes to addressing childhood obesity and allowing your child to become obese is a form of neglect. Some of you may argue otherwise.
You might shake your heads and believe that overfeeding your child cannot be placed in the same category as underfeeding him or her, but you would be wrong. The risk of obtaining a variety of illnesses drastically increases with obesity and being overweight and should be considered a serious form of neglect. Incidences of diabetes, sleep apnea, knee pain, back pain, cirrhosis of the liver, cardiovascular disease and stroke all increase in those who are obese. With information on obesity’s effects relayed by the media faster than ever in history, no parent can claim ignorance about the complications of letting his or her child become overweight.
Obesity is caused by multiple factors; therefore, one condition cannot be held responsible when someone becomes obese. This is only a half-true statement. One variable cannot cause obesity; it is a combination of genes and environment, which includes parents and society at large. Our children are bombarded with commercials starring hamburger clowns. It would be unfair to blame parents for the mistakes of society, or to punish them based on their genetic make-up.
However, parents should still be held accountable for the welfare of their children. Just because more than one issue brings about a situation does not mean that no one is culpable. First, all children are raised in our modern society and not all of them are overweight. Second, the influence of genes is undeniable but not insurmountable. By controlling your child’s diet, forcing him to exercise and setting a good example, he can live an active and healthy life.
The next thing you will tell me is that children do not always do what they are told, and parents should not be held accountable for childhood disobedience. If you cannot get your child to do what you want in terms of diet and what they do for fun, then you need to rethink your parenting style. You are not your child’s friend; you are your son or daughter’s parent — nothing more and nothing less.
It is your obligation to do what is right for your offspring as opposed to what is fun. If they feel like you are their buddy and you feel an obligation to give them what they want, then you are not being the kind of provider a child needs. If the school cafeteria serves fatty food, send them to school with an appropriate packed lunch. When they complain about you sending them outside, take away the Wii. If your child’s health is at risk, your child should have no other option than to be healthy.
While parents should not lose custody of their children if they let them become obese, they should be held accountable. Times have become desperate and if current trends continue, the nightmarish people from the movie “Wall-E” are not too farfetched of a prediction for the future. People everywhere are aware of the horrible complications obesity can cause, so it is the duty of parents to ensure that it does not happen to their children.
Kevin Pease is a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.