02 March 2015

When does obesity become child abuse?

Saw a child in the street yesterday who was around 6 or 7 and already about twice their ideal weight. My heart sank, feeling for the difficulties we can predict that a child in this situation faces, and it got me to wondering….

Who is responsible? The parents? The kids? Lack of education? The advertisers? The fast food retailers? Our society? Who is it???

Then I thought ....  Is there anything I can do to help? Well, at least I can write about it, so this week lets go way Out on a Limb into what I suspect are somewhat politically incorrect and dangerous waters, examine the state of obesity in children and ponder… Who is responsible ??? And what can we do about it?

Also a reminder of the Sydney evening public seminar coming very soon - Tuesday March 3rd on the topic of  FEED YOUR BODY, FEED YOUR MIND - but first

       Thought for the day

You think you understand one.

You think you understand two, 
Because one and one make two.

But, you must also understand "and".

                                  Sufi saying

When I was young, I remember one or two somewhat tubby kids; hardly ever saw one that was really obese. And obesity in children carries so many health risks – physical and psychological.

The latest figures show that in recent years the number of overweight children in Australia has doubled. Doubled! Now, 25.1% of Australian children aged 2-17 years are overweight or obese. That is one in four! Worse still, the biggest “growth” in this statistic is in the obese category.

Overweight, and especially obese children are prone to multiple problems. Not only are they highly likely to develop multiple short and long-term health issues and not only are they more likely to become overweight adults; as children they are likely to be teased, to develop low self esteem and significant body image difficulties that could easily extend well into adult life.

Also, once obese, breaking the habit, losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight can be quite difficult.

We probably all know this, but what of the causes? And what to do?

The officially recognised causes of obesity are perhaps disturbingly obvious. They centre on unhealthy food choices, lack of physical exercise, overweight parents and family eating habits.

Genetics play only a small part. Genetic disorders that directly cause obesity are very rare. It may be that there can be a family tendency to becoming more overweight, which means those families have the need to be even more conscious of the food choices they make.

This then is the challenging point.

I do not see many 6 or 7 year olds doing their own shopping.

So I am bold enough to ask

“Who is responsible for an overweight child?”

Consider this. As a society we have no confusion around our children when it comes to cigarettes and alcohol. If a parent were to buy cigarettes or alcohol for their 7 year old, all in our society would be affronted and cries of abuse would resound.

There are laws in place that prevent buying alcohol and cigarettes for minors. Both products are taxed heavily to provide a strong financial disincentive to purchase them. As a society we have gone through a tortuous process of banning cigarette advertising from our media, and that same push is still in progress with alcohol. There are massive awareness campaigns in place, and providing cigarettes or alcohol to minors is quite rightly socially unacceptable.

Who then is responsible for feeding a child aged 2 to 8?  

9 to 12?

13 to 17?

Is it just the parents?

Well at some point in life it may well seem so.

But that would be too simplistic. If we were to take the easy line and say childhood obesity is all the fault of the parents, and that parents exist in a vacuum independently of the society in which they live, then we would be at risk of creating major issues around blame and shame, and missing some very important key points.

Clearly obesity in children is a complex problem. What children eat, what food parents provide to their children is in no small part the result of the society in which they live. So to tackle childhood obesity, we need to do so as a collective society.

At the moment, there does seem to be a tacit acceptance of childhood obesity. What if we did go way out there and regard it like having a young child that smoked or drank alcohol regularly? What if we went even further and regarded childhood obesity as a form of childhood abuse?

Here are some of the things we might be doing when as a society we find childhood obesity socially unacceptable.

1. Fast food outlets must have healthy options and must be coerced to steadily gravitate to fully healthy options. I often wonder what the world would be like if the founder of McDonalds had added one extra line to his company’s principles. As well as making money through selling food, what if he had decided he wanted McDonalds to leave people healthier for eating his commodities, rather than being the sicker for it.

2. Soft drink content and their consumption need to go through a revolution . Maybe like cigarettes and alcohol, you need to be over 18 to buy soft drinks. Now there is a radical idea!

3. Nutritional education gets a huge boost in schools and for parents. Maybe parent education could

be offered through schools as well. Maybe supportive groups will be the way to actually provide effective support for parents and to help them change their patterns. Maybe we need the AA equivalent for the overweight.

Clearly there is quite a deal going on in this area, but there is so much more that needs to be done.

4. Schools take a pride in providing healthy tuck shop food and ban the unhealthy stuff. Yes ban. They do not sell cigarettes or alcohol, how are those that do, allowed to get away with selling junk food?

5. Children’s sporting events are not places to promote fast foods that do not have a healthy focus.

6. Government increases its efforts and budget in this arena. Future projections tell us that on current trends, it is only a few years before servicing the needs of those with Type 2 Diabetes will take all of the health budget. Yes, that is ALL of the current health budget! And that is just diabetes. Cancer treatment costs are spiralling out of reach, and then there is heart disease. These are all chronic degenerative diseases that are preventable conditions fuelled by being over weight. Attending to them in an integrated way is an imperative.

Government needs to use its spin doctors to make tackling obesity a popular imperative that has bi-partisan support.

7. Surely as part of what Government can do, a fat tax is needed. Just like the heavy taxes on cigarettes, every avenue needs to be pursued to overcome obesity.

8. Doctors need support to name the problem and to assist in addressing it. There actually have been ridiculous situations recently where doctors have been sued for descirbing adults or children as obese and suggesting that those adults or parents attend to the problem. That has to change.

9. Cinemas and other kiosk outlets need to change the “Combo” model that encourages eating too much, and they too need to offer healthy, non- fattening choices.

What do you think? Feel? Any more ideas as to how we as a society can help our children to avoid becoming overweight, and obese and to have at least one of the basic planks for a long and healthy life in place.

Your food as medicine  -   a compilation of compelling recent nutritional research that has direct relevance to what we eat on a daily basis.

CD    Eat Well, Be Well  -  a thorough guide to day-to-day, healthy living - The Wellness Diet


Public Seminar in Sth Sydney with Ian Gawler and Greg Fitzgerald

When?  Tuesday 3rd March 2015
Time?    Registration  6.30pm  Seminar 6.45pm - 10.15pm
Where?  Kareela Golf Club, Bates Drive, Kareela
Register online : CLICK HERE
Enquires : Please call Dawn at Health for Life Seminars on 9540 1962 or 0424246847

Full details are on the website, click here

Meditation in the Forest        March 27th to April 2nd  2015

During this meditation retreat, we will be focusing upon the deeper stillness of meditation. We will explore the theory, but moreso, the actual practices that help us to go beyond the activity of the thinking mind into a more direct and profound experience of the still mind.

Deep, natural peace. A calm and clear mind. So many possibilities follow…..

FULL DETAILS Click here 

CANCER and BEYOND  May 2015   Monday 4th at 11am to Friday 8th at 2pm

Five Day Residential Follow-up Program at the Gawler Foundation in the Yarra Valley

This program is specifically designed for those with cancer along with their support people who have attended a previous Gawler Foundation program or equivalent such as with Sabina Rabold, CSWA, Cancer Care SA, CanLive NZ, or with the Gawlers

A unique opportunity to meet with like-minded people once again, to consolidate what you already know, to learn more from the combined knowledge, experience and wisdom of Ian and Ruth, to reaffirm your good intentions, and to go home refreshed and revitalised.



  1. I think lack of nurturing children leads to eating disorders and compulsive eating. This might be another factor to consider here.

  2. As usual, you are right Ian.Apart from ignorance re sugar and carbohydrates, there is the problem of too much electronic activity where only the fingers are exercised not the body. In my book 'Why Am I So Tired' (amazon/Kindle eBooks) I wrote on this very subject of the need for protein breakfasts to control the craving for sweets in the afternoon/evening...a major cause of obesity in children. Leonie McMahon

  3. Thanks for this Ian. A very brave post and a very valid question.

  4. great article, original perspective, well done! ae you forwarding it to the approriate health offices, perhaps the media?

    1. I will be contacting my local and Federal MPs, recommending they read this post and requesting them to consider what they can do to act more on this urgent issue.

  5. Ian, I am sure many of us that are interested in health in a real way have had many of these thoughts, and feelings of horror as we look around us at people in the street. You have pulled no punches and put it all together beautifully. Congratulations on being willing to name one of the corporations responsible - McDonald's. They have been known to sue people who suggest their influence on the culture might be unhealthy. Perhaps you wouldn't mind that. Of course there are many more. And on the drink front Coca Cola have wrought serious damage over a long time.
    You wrote: "Surely as part of what Government can do, a fat tax is needed. ..."
    Well, yes, if government could get it right. They rarely can get anything right in the area of health. Unfortunately I can see committees and working groups, hugely influenced by the corporate sponsors, coming up with horribly distorted definitions of what is 'Junk Food' or in my words, 'FATogenic' food. In other words they would end up taxing the wrong foods and letting a lot of worse ones slip through.
    That doesn't mean that the debate and effort should not be started though.
    Great article. If I can come up with other initiative to add to your list I will post again.
    David McRae

  6. Excellent article Ian.
    I feel that the Government really does not care about obesity, Type II Diabetes, cancer or heart disease. If they did they would ban fastfood ads, and even outlets. If they did they would ensure money was spent on educating the population about whole-foods plant-based living.
    But as we know, there is no money in Health for the pharmaceutical industry!
    Thanks again,