24 April 2014 17:12

A preoccupation with obesity could harm children’s overall health and wellbeing, claim researchers.

The book Childhood Obesity: Ethical and Policy Issues published by Oxford University Press, argues that the stigmatisation of childhood obesity may worsen health problems and that increasing obesity rates are far from the only social concern.

Co-author Dr Garrath Williams from Lancaster University explains, “Obesity is the most visible indication of more widespread health problems - low levels of physical fitness, poor diet, metabolic syndrome - that are found in many children, even those who may be ‘normal weight’ or underweight.”

The book argues that childhood obesity should not be our only focus, nor addressed in isolation.

“We need to look at the wider determinants of health - not just obesity or even diet”, says Dr Williams.  “We need to think about other social priorities - such as sustainability, equality, safety, and children’s freedom - and find ways to address these priorities alongside one another.”

One of the main challenges is the stigma attached to obesity, say the authors. This contributes to many behaviours that can worsen children’s health outcomes, such as a reluctance to exercise or seek medical assistance and the adoption of dangerous, possibly counterproductive weight loss methods.

Dr Williams is one of 17 lead partners in the EC-funded I.Family study, which is investigating the determinants of food choice, lifestyle and health in European families. I.Family is following the health of thousands of adolescents, following their earlier involvement in the IDEFICS Study (2006-2012).