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Old 08-10-2006, 09:22 AM   #1  
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Default Are Parents Morally Obligated to Prevent Obesity in Their Children?

Parents might have to think twice about the moral ramifications of raising obese kids, according to one young academic.

Eric Porcellato, a former student University of New Brunswick Fred ericton, NB, has won The Canadian Obesity Network’s inaugural student thesis competition for his analysis of parents’ moral obligations to incorporate healthy diet and exercise practices in their children’s lifestyle.

In his paper, written specifically for the competition, Porcellato argues that children whose obesity is the result of parental choices, particularly in terms of a sedentary lifestyle and excessive intake of calorie-dense foods, are in many cases being exposed to an unjustifiable risk of harm. He also suggests that parents can mitigate this harm by utilizing what is known as the ‘best-interest standard’, a legal and moral guide typically employed for decision making involving incompetent persons. Porcellato’s submission is based on a wider discussion of this topic in his Master’s thesis, which he completed and defended this year.
This was in today's news and I thought it was interesting enough to bring up and see if anyone had any comments. You can read the entire article at the link below.

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Old 08-10-2006, 10:41 AM   #2  
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This is a very difficult question. The difficulties are that:-

* some children have medical problems or are on medications that increase the risk of obesity, so this is more of a grey area.

* older children could be said to make their own decisions. From the age of about 12 I would sneak packets of crisps/chips from the cupboard without my parents knowledge. Can they really be held accountable for this behaviour?

* children spend a lot of time at school, eating often very unhealthy school dinners and doing the exercise levels that the school dictates. Can parents be held accountable for this? While a large number of parents can lobby the schools for changes, can a single family be resposible if this doesn't happen? Should parents start up a campaign against these practices in schools if there isn't one already? How much should parents involve themselves in this?

* children visit their friends' homes. How much do parents have the right to interfere with the way other parents run their homes?

* some children have parents with physical, mental or emotional problems that make it difficult to exercise with their children. Can they be held responsible if this affects the children's level of activity?

* some people live on low incomes, and as sad as it is, it is often cheaper to buy turkey twizzlers, burgers, pizzas etc, than healthy foods with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, good quality lean meats, wholegrains etc.

Putting aside these points, I do believe that parents have the responsibility to promote a healthy diet and lifestyle with their kids. I hate to see obese 5 year olds because I don't see that they have had much choice in becoming fat. They cannot make the decision that the portion of food in front of them contains more fat than they should have, or has high sugar levels.

I believe that parents should be trying to provide their children with a good, healthy diet. They should be encouraging their children to lead an active lifestyle and not spend all their time in front of the tv or playstation. I guess I do believe that parents have a moral duty to not let their children become obese, but I also believe that there are a lot of problems with that for the reasons listed above. How much should parents be held accountable? How far should they take their concerns? How much effort should they have to make?

I believe there was a case a few years ago in the US where a 13 year old girl had died weighing over 33 stone (over 462 lbs). Who else but the parents can be responsible for her weighing this much? Once your child becomes bed-ridden there is no way that she can be taking food out of the cupboards without her parents noticing. Her parents must have been supplying her with the huge amounts of food she would require to get that fat. I believe her mother was charged with her death, and in all honesty I can't think of any excuse that would explain that level of obesity.

Most cases will never be this severe and many will fall into a huge grey area, but I'm sure that everyone can agree that letting a 13 year old become so morbidly obese is morally wrong.
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Old 08-10-2006, 10:57 AM   #3  
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As a parent, I know that I modified my own eating habits to model good behaviors for my son. I tried my best to help my son internalize good eating habits at home as well as away from home. Every day after school, I would ask him three questions: What's the best thing that happened today? What's the worst thing that happened today? What vegetable did you eat with lunch?

When he goes to friends' houses or dinners out, I tell him to mind his manners and eat some vegetables if available.

I've spent years telling him the benefits of various foods, so he has more motivation to eat them. I'm sure he feels like I drill it into him and probably rolls his eyes about it behind my back, but guess what - he's sixteen, healthy, and very conscious of his food choices. I guess it worked.

So while we don't have control over specific actions, I think we have control over what values we teach, and healthy food choices can be one of those values.
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Old 08-10-2006, 11:12 AM   #4  
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This is scarey. I snuck food when I was five, though my parents and grandparents had many healthy food and exercise habits, they also had many unhealthy ones. Most kids who are fed a crappy diet won't be overweight, but they're still going to have health problems if not now, later on. Who decided how and when the parents are held accountable?

Especially since the understanding of good nutrition and exercise, is not wide-spread. Even here, we see people who think they've made healthy choices in their diet, only to find they've actually increased their fat and calories (granola and fruit smoothie for breakfast anyone? How about a taco salad for lunch?)

I think a better response to the obesity epidemic is to teach children about nutrition, obesity, and exercise as early as possible - in kindergarten - and even preschool. And I think the PE programs have to change to be made more fun and include things the kids will want to do at home too. (And I sure hope they've stopped letting the kids - it always seems to be the popular kids too - pick the teams). I mean who's going to go home and do calesthenics or play dodgeball?

On the other hand, I do see that intervention, if done positively, could make a difference. I was obese in kindergarten, and morbidly obese only a few years later. If this had not been ignored, but rather had been addressed (discreetly and positively) by the school nurse and/or counselor might have been able to help (unfortunately in the 70's and even today, there are so many conflicting theories on proper diet and exercise).
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Old 08-10-2006, 03:56 PM   #5  
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Parents could begin by turning off the tv and sending the children to play, or better yet, taking them for a walk or playing a sport with them. The kids next door to me are in front of the tv from early morning until 10 pm. They never play outside or participate in any sport. They are overweight. I see bags of fast food and pizza arriving daily. The parents are responsible and should be held accountable.
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Old 08-10-2006, 05:15 PM   #6  
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Porcellato argues that children whose obesity is the result of parental choices, particularly in terms of a sedentary lifestyle and excessive intake of calorie-dense foods, are in many cases being exposed to an unjustifiable risk of harm.

In this particular instance- yes. Every single day, several times a day I see parents pawn their children off to the vending machines. I babysit children with full pantries and empty refigerators. I know more children that have portable DVD players than jump ropes. I know a 5 year old who is on her 8th cavity. It sickens me to see what is happening to these children.

Plenty of them are thwarting a weight problem- but you can see that it's in the mail. And more and more aren't able to fend it off. I think that you could attribute obesity, in children in particular, to this kind of lifestyle. I know some children will just be overweight, but it's so incredibly hard to justify such a rise in childhood obesity when I see this behavior and neglect every single day. I think it ties into the whole "gimme" attitude that has been perpetuated for some time now (see thread in general discussion). Parents make up for absence or laziness or exhaustion or whatever with appeasment and it's sad that it isn't just a child's character that is spoiled, but their health.

With that said, I also know some FABULOUS parents whose children are normal weight and overweight who are actively involved in everything their children do.
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Old 08-10-2006, 06:14 PM   #7  
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When I was probably 5 or 6, I ate a whole box of sugar cubes at my dad's work. I knew I shouldn't do it, I knew I would get in trouble, I knew I wasn't allowed to have that kind of stuff - and that you can't just eat sugar.
Now, 20 years later, I still remember how the sugar cubes felt as they melted in my mouth and how much fun it was.
Was this my parents' fault? Not directly.
My parents made bad choices regarding my food behavior as a child. My dad used to bring home candy bars nightly when he came home from work (I was maybe 2 or 3 at the time). I learned that food - especially sweets/junk - was love... essentially the same as giving me a hug. A candy bar meant love.
Dad didn't do this for my entire upbringing, but as I got fatter, I wasn't allowed that "love" (food) so I would sneak it to make me feel better.
I was shown to use food to stuff down emotions. When dad or mom had a bad day, we went out to eat or got ice cream. Grandma pacified me with food from the beginning as well.
Later, they all tried to get me to eat "healthy", but refused, I wanted the junk, I wanted processed boxed food. I wanted hot dogs and macaroni and pizza. They always gave in because they didn't want to hear my whine.... They shouldn't have. They should have just stuck to eat: eat what is cooked or go to bed hungry.
My family is definitely responsible for creating my unhealthy relationship with food.
So generally, yes, I do think parents have a moral obligation to teach their children about healthy food and to have a healthy relationship with food.
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Old 08-10-2006, 07:40 PM   #8  
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It is a parents responsibility to set a good example with their children for healthy eating and exercise behaviors. It's also a very thin line.
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Old 08-10-2006, 07:43 PM   #9  
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Until people are better at being able to take care of themselves, they won't be able to teach someone else. We are learning the hard way but we are benefitting and we can help someone else. Not everyone is at that point.
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Old 08-11-2006, 07:24 AM   #10  
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Parents are morally obligated to do their best to guide their children towards a life as healthy, responsible and contributing members of society. In regards to diet, that means providing lots of healthy and nutritious foods, limiting the junk food that is kept in the house (less junk food in house, less temptation for little mouths) and providing a good example. As children grow older, it will become more difficult to influence their diet, but the basics that I have mentioned already will help to ensure that they are eating properly.
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