The Relationship between Parental Negligence and Childhood Obesity

TheRelationship between Parental Negligence and Childhood Obesity

TheRelationship between Parental Negligence and Childhood Obesity

Theprevalence of childhood obesity has been increasing at an exponentialrate, which has created the need for the identification of the maincauses of the new trend. Statistics show that the global prevalenceof childhood obesity is 10 %, while the prevalence rate in America isslightly above 30 % (Mohamed, 2015). An idea that childhood obesityshould be attributed to parental negligence is still controversial.Supporters of the idea that parents should be blamed for childhoodobesity claim that parents have a responsibility to influence whattheir child eat and help their children access the suitable medicalcare. The opponents of the idea of parental negligence state thatchildhood obesity is caused by factors that are beyond the control ofparents. This paper presents an argument that childhood obesity canbe attributed to parental negligence direct or indirectly, which isconfirmed by an increase in the cases of supervisory negligence andmedical negligence.

Supervisorynegligence and the risk of obesity

Adebate on parental negligence can be advanced by assessing parent`sinfluence on what their children eat. From this perspective, patentscan be considered to have acted negligently by either feeding theirchildren with unhealthy types of foods or failing to guide them onhealthy eating habits. Parent’s action or inaction is determined bythe level of parental control on the child’s behavior. According toTzou &amp Chu (2012) child-parent interaction, especially during themeal times imposes certain types of eating control on kids’ eatingautonomy. Responsible parents take advantage of the interaction torestrict their children from taking foods that subject them to therisk of suffering from obesity. Lessons that children learn fromtheir parents increase the level of self-control, which in turn helpsthem to manage their eating habits, even during the adulthood.

Parentshave an inherent supervisory role of ensuring that their children donot engage in risky behaviors, including the consumption of foodswith excess calories and fats. A failure to carry out this roleincreases the risk of childhood obesity, which confirms that parentscan be accused of the “supervisory negligence”. However, the ideaof supervisory negligence holds when obesity is caused by factors(such as unhealthy eating habits) other than genetic predisposition.In addition, parents who are accused of supervisory negligence failto conduct an adequate monitoring of physical activities in whichthey engage as part of the process of keeping fit (Knutson, Taber,Murray, Valles &amp Koeppl, 2010). A combination of these factorsresult in supervisory negligence, which is a term used to describe ascenario in which parents are not able to offer the standard carethat a normal parent would be expected to provide. Supporters of theconcept of care negligence uphold the idea that parents ought toprotect their children from any form of harm, including diseases.

Medicalnegligence and childhood obesity

Medicalnegligence occurs when the families, especially parents of thechildren who are at the risk of suffering from obesity fail toprovide or seek the necessary medical care. This places children atthe risk of suffering from preventable harm, such as obesity. Neglectmay be detected when parents fail to follow doctors’ appointmentsand refusing to adhere to treatment programs (Garraham &amp Eichner,2013). Studies have shown that the families of children sufferingfrom obesity are characterized by inconsistent follow-up of medicalprescriptions, disorganization, and parental denial of the kid’sweight problems (Knutson et al., 2010). Some parents understand theimpact of obesity on the wellbeing of their children and seek thehelp medical practitioners, but fail to adhere to prescribedmedication. This can be confirmed by the large number of parents ofobese children who fail to follow up the recovery of their childrenwith the help the health care professionals (Garraham &amp Eichner,2013). Another group of parents demonstrates negligence by refusingto guide their children in taking medication and other therapeuticprocedures as prescribed by the health care professionals. Childrenwho are brought up by irresponsible parents may end-up dying ofobesity or live with the condition to their later stages ofdevelopment.

Thereis sufficient evidence to prove that parental negligence has played acritical role in the exponential increase in the prevalence ofchildhood obesity. However, the ethical principle of autonomy acts asa barrier to the formulation as well as the enforcement of laws thatcan lead to punishment of negligent parents by the judicial system.The stakeholders who oppose the state intervention hold that parentshave the right to make decisions that affect the life of theirchildren (Garraham &amp Eichner, 2013). The opponents of this ideahold that the concepts of autonomy and self-determination can only beupheld when addressing issues that affect competent people who canmake rational decisions. Therefore, the ongoing debate on whetherparents should be held accountable for childhood obesity should beinformed by the fact that all caregivers (including parents) have anobligation to make decisions that can protect children who are notcompetent enough to make decisions from any form of harm.

Factorsthat are beyond human control

Thestakeholders who support the argument that parents should be blamedfor childhood obesity forget that this is a medical condition that iscaused by many factors, where some of the causes are beyond parentalcontrol. When writing a case for and against parental negligence inan article “Is childhood obesity neglect?” that was published inCommunity Care Magazine, Gillen (2016) stated, “even professionalswho should be aware of what a healthy weight is for a child areroutinely getting it wrong” (p. 1). This implies that theoccurrence of childhood obesity may not necessarily depend on thelevel of parental care or the amount of knowledge that a parent hasabout the medical condition.

Scientistshave identified that the risk of suffering from obesity runs infamilies, which is an indication of genetic predisposition. A twinstudy of over 5,000 thousand families indicated that geneticpredisposition accounts for 77 % of all cases of BMI variation(Garraham &amp Eichner, 2013). This scientific evidence shows thatthe stakeholders in the health care sector should start focusing onthe role of genetics in the process of weight gain instead of blamingthe parents.

Scholarshave also identified a wide range of chemicals that contributetowards the occurrence of obesity among children. The human bodyproduces different types of hormones (such as endocrine-disruptingchemical and leptin) that regulate the eating habits. For example,leptin deficiency has been shown to increase the quantity of foodthat an individual consumes which results in excess accumulation offats in the body (Garraham &amp Eichner, 2013). The metabolicprocesses that result in excess accumulation of fats and eatinghabits of a child who suffers from deficiency of leptin are beyondthe control of a parent.

Acombination of economic, sociological, and cultural factors alsoincrease the susceptibility of children to obesity. This is confirmedby the fact that the prevalence of childhood obesity in the U.S. isdirectly proportional to the rate of increase in racial and ethnicdiversity. Research shows that about 26.8 % of children from theMexican American families are obese or overweight as compared to 16.7% of children from non-Hispanic whites (Garraham &amp Eichner,2013). The economic strength of a family influences the prevalence ofchildhood obesity by determining the capacity of parents to purchasehealthy foods, such as fruits. In most cases, poor parents afford thetypes of food that can only help their children survive, but theirsensitivity to the health implication of the feeding habits is quitelimited. Basing the argument of whether parents of obese childrenshould be considered to be negligent on factors that are beyond humancontrol leads to a conclusion that more than half (77 %) of all casesof childhood obesity result from factors that are beyond the scope ofindividual parents or health care professionals.


Childhoodobesity has become a serious medical condition in the modern world,but it cannot be entirely attributed to parental negligence. Byanalyzing both sides of the argument on the issue of the relationshipbetween parental negligence and childhood obesity, it is clear thatfactors that are beyond the control of parents contribute to morethan 77 % of all cases of obesity among children. This implies thatsupervisory negligence contributes to less than 23 % of theprevalence of childhood obesity. However, the issue of negligencedoes not only focus on the role of parents in the onset of obesity.Negligence can be indicated by the manner in which individual parentsrespond to cases of obesity, irrespective of whether they were causedby factors (such as genetic predisposition) that were beyond theircontrol. For example, the issue of medical negligence does not dependon the underlying cause of obesity, but the willingness of thepatents to seek medical assistance that can help their childrenrecover and lead a fulfilling life. Therefore, parents can beimplicated directly or indirectly in the prevalence of childhoodobesity.


Garraham,M. &amp Eichner, A. (2013). Tipping the scale: A place for childhoodobesity in the evolving legal framework of child abuse and neglect.YaleJournal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics,12 (2), 338-369.

Gillen,S. (2016). Is childhood obesity neglect? CommunityCare Magazine.Retrieved June 21, 2016, from

Knutson,F., Taber, S., Murray, J., Valles, N. &amp Koeppl, G. (2010). Therole of care neglect in childhood obesity in a disadvantaged sample.Journalof Pediatric Psychology,35 (5), 523-532.

Mohamed,S. (2015). Childhood obesity: Epidemiology, determinants, andprevention. Journalof Nutritional Disorder and Therapy,5 (2), 1-4.

Tzou,I. &amp Chu, N. (2012). Parental influence on childhood obesity: Areview. Health,4, 1464-1470.