Obesity a factor in at least 20 child protection cases in the last year
The BBC has learnt that obesity has been a factor in at least 20 child protection cases in the last year. Some doctors now believe that in extreme cases overfeeding a young child should be regarded as a form of abuse or neglect.
And one concerned paediatrician told BBC News: "I've seen a ten-year-old who could only walk a few yards with a walking stick. Her diet of chips and high fat food could firmly be laid at the parents door. I believe they were killing her slowly."
Earlier this year the case of one obese child hit the headlines when social workers became involved. The British Medical Association is due to debate a motion on this issue at its annual conference at the end of June.
Dr Tabitha Randell, a consultant paediatrician from Nottingham, is one doctor concerned that some parents could be killing their children with kindness.
In her clinic it has become more common to see children entering puberty before the age of ten because of their obesity. In one extreme case she saw a child aged two and a half who weighed more than four stone.
"They said she was big boned and they were too. I think the perception of parents is a very real problem. If you see every other child in the playground with their belly hanging over their trousers you think that's normal."
The debate comes amid growing concern about the extent of childhood obesity. Paediatricians have also told the BBC they are now seeing children under the age of one who are clinically obese.
Doctors say they are concerned some parents are losing sight of how a child of normal weight should look, and no longer understand the correct portion sizes for very young children.
Kacey Gibbs is now four-years-old – but she is the height and size of an overweight child of ten. Her weight began escalating when she was just six-months-old.
By the age of two she was too obese to fit in a child's seat in a supermarket trolley and her parents were struggling to carry her. Nadine Gibbs, her mum, says she was shocked that a small child could gain weight so quickly.
"I was scared, worried – because the weight gain was so fast. It wasn't like a couple of ounces, it was like two or three pounds every week.
"And her breathing was getting bad – she had bad asthma, running around she was getting so breathless. And it was just more the worry side of things, if it never calmed down what was going to happen?"
When Kacey was two her parents drew up a list of what they called "princess" foods and only allowed their daughter to make healthy choices. As a result her weight has levelled off and they now hope she will gradually slim down as she grows older. Her parents have transformed her prospects for a healthy life.
Mary Rudolf, Professor of Child Health at Leeds PCT, is Kacey's doctor. Mary said: "Kacey is certainly not a one-off case – we're seeing increasing numbers of children like this – they're certainly not exceptional – we're seeing them more as parents realise something needs to be done and they need help for it. It's up to us to help them battle against obesity."
With the help of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health the BBC has been in touch with almost 50 paediatricians around the UK who agreed to fill out a questionnaire. They have given their individual views as clinicians based on the cases they are seeing in their clinics.
On condition of anonymity several doctors told the BBC about cases they had seen and whether overfeeding is neglect.
"We're very lily-livered about this as a society. I have seen an obese child taken away from parents return to a normal body weight in a few months.
"I've seen a ten-year-old who could only walk a few yards with a walking stick. Her diet of chips and high fat food could firmly be laid at the parents' door. I believe they were killing her slowly."
On seeing a ten-year-old with diabetes and high blood pressure, one doctor explained: "He is at risk of heart disease in his twenties – the family will not make changes."
Another doctor described how a 12-year-old boy came into hospital to be put on a diet, but his family were caught smuggling in 1lb bars of chocolate for him.
The most severe cases under the age of 12 included:
- An extremely obese three-year-old whose parents were adding sugar to all his food and drink as "he liked it that way";
- A child who put on 2lbs a month since birth, who was now aged three and the weight of an average ten-year-old;
- A one-year-old baby weighing 2 stone 5lbs;
- A boy of two weighing 4½ stone, purely to do with overfeeding.
Notes to Editors
Child protection cases involve a range of interventions. Social workers can attend case conferences with doctors, visit parents' homes, call families to meetings, and in very serious cases put a child on the at-risk register or begin proceedings to take the child into care.
It is unclear whether the 20 cases involve children being taken away from their parents, or other measures.