Governments, obesity and children

To prevent health problems in children, most governments take all kinds of measures to reduce obesity. This article highlights a number of measures and their sometimes very undesirable consequences. It is clear that being overweight increases the risk of health problems. Canadian research from the Center for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences and the University of British Columbia was published in 2009. It analyzes data from 20 extensive studies from American and European countries on the link between obesity and health. This shows that people who are extremely overweight more often have health problems, such as diabetes, colon cancer or high blood pressure. It is therefore not surprising that in the Western world there is considerable attention to preventing and reducing obesity.

Good promotions

Netherlands: Healthy Weight Agreement

The Dutch government finances various projects to encourage people to eat healthier and exercise more. An example of this is the Healthy Weight Covenant, the partnership between governments, social organizations, the business community and healthcare with the aim of reducing obesity among adults and children. This made it possible to reduce advertising aimed at children under 12 by the food industry. Since 2010, the Covenant has focused mainly on youth by introducing the successful French approach to obesity EPODE approach ( Ensemble, Prevenons l’Obesite Des Enfants let’s tackle obesity in children together) in the Netherlands. This approach involves working together at local level to change the lifestyle of young people in order to prevent obesity.

America: Let’s Move

In America, Michelle Obama is fighting against childhood obesity. Her Let’s Move campaign was launched on February 9, 2010, which aims to tackle the problem of obesity in children. Backed by the major American media corporations ( Walt Disney, NBC Universal and Viacom ) and with the cooperation of healthcare and companies, this campaign aims to give American children a healthier future. The campaign consists of four pillars:

  • The first consists of supporting those who play a key role in the family: the parents. They receive tools and information to make healthier choices for their children.
  • Another pillar is the improvement of school meals. These are an important part of the daily diet for many children in America. In October 2009, a US government-appointed committee from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies strongly criticized the quality of school meals. They contain too much salt and dairy products with too much fat and too little fruit and vegetables. There was also no clear maximum number of calories per meal. The campaign aims to make them healthier by, among other things, making agreements with the food industry about reducing the sugar, fat and salt content in products and increasing the subsidy on school meals.
  • The third pillar consists of efforts to make healthy food more readily available and affordable everywhere. The campaign focuses mainly on encouraging and subsidizing the establishment of shops in food deserts (areas where no healthy food is available) and the promotion of agricultural products.
  • The final pillar is to encourage children to exercise more, for example by encouraging schools to improve and expand physical education with the help of subsidies.

Undesirable effects of government interference

Parents are blamed

Not all efforts to reduce obesity are positive and sometimes lead to completely undesirable effects. Sometimes the fact that parental cooperation is needed seems to be ignored. It is not obvious that parents will be more willing to change their behavior if communication is in an accusatory tone. The campaign that the IdeĆ«le Advertising Foundation (Sire) launched in 2004 is an example of this. The aim was to make parents aware of the fact that obesity in children is a serious problem and to get parents to respond to their child in a better way. The slogan that accompanied the campaign: If you really love your child, you say no more often, led to aversion. Many parents had great difficulty with the suggestion that parents of fat children did not really love their child. In some cases the criticism is present, but more hidden. In January 2010, Minister Rouvoet called on parents of immigrant children to reduce their children’s obesity. He advised them to ensure that they had a healthier diet. He also wanted municipal institutions to encourage immigrant parents, especially their daughters, to exercise more.

Weight of overweight children in school report

In England and some American states, parents receive information from the school about their child’s obesity. Parents of children who are overweight receive a letter from the school stating height, weight and BMI and advising them to offer the child a healthy diet and to encourage more exercise and sports. Sometimes the BMI is included on the child’s report card. In the analysis that scientists from the Children’s Hospital Boston published in 2009 about the research into the effects of this, it emerged that the overweight of the children in question did not change. In addition, several negative side effects were reported. For example, after the initial shock about the message, parents often do not call for help, but tackle the problem themselves by putting the child on a low-calorie diet. This can pose quite a few health risks: growth disorders and problems with the child’s eating behavior, such as hiding food, secretly eating or overeating.

Unnecessary commotion that harms the goal

Sometimes the attention paid to combating obesity leads to commotion that does not serve the purpose. In England, a toddler died of cardiac arrest in May 2004. Pediatrician Sheila McKenzie announced the shocking news. She stated that the death of the three-year-old girl was caused by her obesity. This conclusion was publicized through the media and used to make it clear to the British public that extreme obesity in young children can have very serious consequences. This prompted British policy to launch a fierce attack on, among other things, the food industry. However, further investigation later revealed that the girl had not died from the direct consequences of being overweight, but that her death was the result of a genetic disease that was completely unrelated.

Youth care intervenes

Government agencies responsible for the well-being of children sometimes intervene in cases of obesity. At the end of 2009, British youth care placed six children from a family in Dundee, Scotland, in foster care. The main reason given for the intervention was the fact that the parents had ignored several warnings to put the whole family on a diet. The newborn (and not fat) daughter was also temporarily cared for outside the parental home because youth care staff feared that she was at great risk of becoming overweight, just like the mother. The baby was returned to the parents a few days later on the condition that the parents would fully follow the advice of youth care staff. In America, in 2009, a mother was taken to court by youth care to enforce her permission to have her 14-year-old son treated for his obesity. The judge ruled in favor of youth care. The mother tried to evade this requirement by fleeing with her son to another American state. She was arrested there a few days later and charged with neglect. Her son was placed in a foster home.

read more

  • History of ideal weight and BMI
  • How does taste preference arise in children?
  • Can you change eating habits?
  • Parents, children and obesity