The Daily Telegraph-Australia
By Kate Sikora, Health Reporter
February 02, 2009 12:00am
CHILDREN could be taken away from their parents if they become too fat under a controversial proposal by an Australian doctor.
With one in four children overweight or obese, Dr Shirley Alexander, from the Children's Hospital at Westmead, wants parents to be disciplined in "extreme cases" when their child becomes too overweight.
Under the proposal, child protection agencies would be called in to seize a child when parents repeatedly failed to address diet problems.
"We argue that in a sufficiently extreme case, notification of child protection services may be an appropriate professional response," Dr Alexander said.
In one case welfare authorities were forced to intervene when a four-year-old girl measured 110cm tall and weighed 40kg. The girl watched TV for six hours a day and had tantrums when denied food.
Dr Alexander said despite the efforts of health workers, a "family-focused" program failed to stop or reverse the child's weight gain.
She said child protection authorities were notified, and the child was put on a diet and physical activity program that had her losing weight.
Dr Alexander's report concludes that a doctor is duty bound to "report severe cases of inadequately managed paediatric obesity to the authorities".
Out of the 100 cases at the obesity clinic at the Children's Hospital, at least two a year are "extreme cases".
Doctors fear some parents may be neglecting their child's health, placing them at severe risk of death.
Susie Burrell, paediatric nutritionist at the Children's Hospital, Westmead, said government intervention was needed in only rare cases.
"We are talking about just one or two cases a year," she said.
"If a child was perceived at risk then child protection agencies would be called but unfortunately they are under so much pressure and childhood obesity is not deemed acute.
"We must stress this is in extreme cases where repeated management strategies have failed and a child continues to put on weight."
Children who are deemed an extreme case often have already developed adult diseases such as heart failure and diabetes.
Sleep apnoea is also a major concern, which can cause a child to stop breathing and die. Dr Alexander's report, in the Medical Journal of Australia, suggests every doctor has a duty to "report severe cases of inadequately managed paediatric obesity to the authorities".
Last year the Government deemed obesity as a health priority along with heart disease and cancer.
Every child entering school this year must undergo a health check, measuring their body mass index, an indicator of obesity.
Where will this all end? Who will determine whether a child is too fat? or too thin? or too short? or too tall? or too smart? or too slow? or too fast (ADHD)? Who sets the standards and from what are they based? It is becoming extremely hard for parents to even trust doctors, teachers, social workers or others who will decide their children's future for them, because they don't want to regard the parents input (a lot of the time). What can we do to make sure this doesn't happen in our country?