Tuesday, October 16, 2007

We are Losing the Battle Against Childhood Obesity

I believe something like the following moral precept is a sensible one that should inform our individual and collective decision-making: "Parents, and society in general, have a moral obligation to provide our children with the opportunities necessary for living a flourishing life" (let's call this MP).

I know, I know...many will contest the "perfectionism" explicit in this precept (what constitutes human "flourishing"?!). So let me water it down to a less contentious precept (so that this post does not go astray).

Here is the watered down ("non-perfectionist") version of MP, what we can call MP': "we have a moral obligation not to harm our children".

Some behaviours obviously violate MP'. For example, when a parent abuses their child, or severely neglects them (e.g. starvation). Such behaviour is criminal and can result in the parent losing custody of their child. But other kinds of neglect are less subtle, and the harms less immediate (though still severe).

This story in today's Guardian is a wake up call for all parents and society in general. We are losing the battle against childhood obesity and this has devastating consequences for our children and society. Here are a few excerpts from the story:

The government has quietly abandoned its target to halt childhood obesity by 2010, setting instead the goal of reducing it by 2020 - a decade further on.
The move comes in the response today of the public health minister, Dawn Primarolo, to the Foresight report, a two-year trawl through the evidence by scientists which concluded that the problem was huge, could cost the UK £45bn a year and could take 30 years to turn round.

While it was acknowledged the government target was ambitious when it was set in 2004, many critics say that to take the pressure off by allowing the childhood obesity goal to slip by 10 years is unwise.

....It is neither entirely the fault of the individual nor of society, Foresight says. There is no magic bullet solution, and no wonder diet drug will do the trick. Foresight draws many parallels with climate change, saying that changes in many different areas of society are necessary, from the design of towns and transport systems to encouraging healthier food production and consumption. If current obesity levels continue, about 60% of men, 50% of women and 25% of children in the UK will be obese by 2050.

As the story notes, that there are no easy solutions to the problem. But hopefully greater awareness of how severe the problem of childhood obesity is will inspire greater reflection, and action, on this dire situation. A virtuous parent is one that will be proactive in promoting the health opportunities of their children (and setting a good example by living a healthy lifestyle themselves).

Going back to my previous post on "Is Healthcare Special? Part 2", whatever one thinks about the priority society should place on healthcare services, if anything is deserving of the title "special" it is the health prospects of our children. And parents and society are failing our children- those we are entrusted to love and care for. So the moral and political discourse needs to get more serious about tackling the epidemic of childhood obesity.


P.S.- some info on the epidemic of childhood obesity in Canada is available here.