Take Obese Cumbrian Children Into Care Says Expert

Cumbria is again at the centre of a national childhood obesity debate, with some campaigners now calling for the fattest youngsters to be taken into care.

Last year the county council became the first in England to take a child away from its parents because of concerns over obesity.

The eight-year-old girl, from west Cumbria, was 5ft tall and a size 16 – six sizes bigger than the average for her age. She had suffered health problems associated with her weight, prompting social services staff to take her into care.

However, the girl’s parents claimed her size was down to a medical problem or genetics, rather than a poor diet.

It has since emerged that local authorities in London and Lincolnshire have taken similar action. But an attempt to do the same in North Tyneside attracted a major outcry and forced social workers to look at other options, instead drawing up a contract to control what the boy ate.

Now a leading health campaigner has called for local authorities to follow Cumbria’s lead in extreme cases and help counter the effects of a ticking obesity timebomb.

Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, put the proposal to a meeting in London this week, saying it should be treated in the same way as malnourishment.

“I am talking about children who are so dangerously overweight that they are at risk from other illnesses such as diabetes. If they don’t slim down they will run serious medical risks,” he explained.

“There should be a case for them being removed from their parents to somewhere such as a paediatric ward where doctors could keep tight control of their eating.

“I am not saying keep then in total isolation from their families – parents should have access to maintain their link with the child.

“Removal is exactly what we would do in a case of malnourishment. It is just that over-nourishment is a new problem. People have not got their heads round it yet. However the Association of Directors of Children’s Services said a child would not be taken into care purely because of their weight, although that may be taken into account in a judgement about neglect.

Mr Fry’s proposals were backed by a third of experts at the forum, though others still see this action as extreme and fear it may do more harm than good.

They say that other measures – to promote healthy eating and fitness to families – can be just as effective.

In Cumbria, one in 10 children start school clinically obese, with this figure rising to 15.5 per cent by the time they reach year six – aged 10 or 11. This situation is mirrored across the country.