Police and medical experts helping set up system so state can help children lose weight when caregivers fail to act.
Many of the children have obstructive sleep apnoea, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and diabetes, fatty liver disease or mental health issues such as poor self-esteem or depression. A proposal to refer obese children to child protection services has been slammed by a child health expert. Professor Wayne Cutfield, director of the Liggins Institute at Auckland University, told Newstalk ZB it was "incredibly disappointing that the way we manage child obesity could end up being children being removed from their families."
The NZ Herald revealed today that a "traffic light" system was being proposed for referring children to Child Youth and Family for "medical neglect". Doctors are developing protocols to refer obese children to child protection services if their parents ignore medical advice to help their children lose weight. Starship Hospital paediatrician Dr Patrick Kelly said the system was not specific to obesity but could include obesity cases.
Dr Cutfield told Newstalk that while there was no doubt obesity was a huge problem in New Zealand, "simply blaming and shaming and then potentially removing or incarcerating children is the wrong approach". He said some families did not recognise their children were obese, particularly with young children.
A paediatrician from Perth's Princess Margaret Children's Hospital told a child abuse conference in Auckland that children and teens had been referred to child protection services when parents had failed to address children's obesity. Australian paediatrician Dr Alice Johnson told a child abuse conference in Auckland yesterday that her unit at Perth's Princess Margaret Children's Hospital had referred 13 children and teenagers to child protection services since 2008 after parents failed to address children's obesity or when there were other child protection issues such as drugs or domestic violence.
In four cases the child protection agency removed children from their parents to ensure that they kept appointments with dietitians and tried to lose weight. In New Zealand, Starship hospital paediatrician Dr Patrick Kelly said he was working with police and Child, Youth and Family (CYF) to develop a "traffic light" system to guide referrals to CYF for "medical neglect".
Dr Johnson said all the children lost weight in an initial three- or four-week stay in hospital simply by eating a normal hospital diet and getting some exercise and physiotherapy. One 11-year-old boy who weighed 155kg lost 9kg in three weeks. "He loved doing the exercises and was feeling really good about himself. "However, the results after they left hospital were disappointing. Only one of the nine children who stayed at home lost significant weight. The four who were moved to other carers all lost weight initially, but three of them put it on again when they moved to other carers or back home.
Otahuhu Recreation and Youth Centre nutritionist David Hill said most parents tried to help their teenage children to lose weight, but that the teens often resisted the pressure.
Medical Association chairman Dr Mark Peterson said later that New Zealand doctors would always try to help a family to change their diet and exercise more rather than reporting them to CYF. "I'm not saying there would never be a case for it, but it would be very rare," he said.