The topic of this research is looking into child obesity and whether it gives cause to come under child neglect laws. This will be done in a literature review format incorporating interviews to look at fact and opinions on the matter. The results provide a complex over view and debate the topic thoroughly, taking into consideration affecting factors. Yes, child obesity can be neglect if a parent’s have persistently ignored guidance and failed to seek needed help. It can also be no as not every child obese case gives cause to be considered neglect and it is extremely rare.
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“Obesity is a condition in which weight gain has reached the point of seriously endangering health. While some people are genetically more susceptible than others, the direct cause of obesity in any individual is always an excess of energy intake over energy expenditure” (Chambers and Wakely, 2002: X).
The issues arisen from criminalising child obesity being under the law of child neglect will be critically discussed in this dissertation.
Obesity is a major concern in the UK, proven to potentially shorten lives by up to 9 years, health professionals are starting to express their worries of parents outliving their children as a consequence of the health problems that accompany obesity (Kellow, 2011). Some of the possible health implications of child obesity are: diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and osteoarthritis (Sullivan, 2004 and Heaton-Harris, 2009). In 2010 20% of boys and 17% of girls aged 11-15 could be described as clinically obese, with 14% and 15% aged between 2-10 being obese. From 1995 child obesity has risen 6% for boys and 3% for girls (reference). This would make nearly 1 in 5 of all children not just overweight, but a t the point of serious health issues (Health Survey for England, 2010). It is already said to be costing the UK £2 billion annually (Kellow, 2011) and estimated to increase to £50 billion annually by 2050 if trends continue (Butland et al. 2007). The increase in child obesity has sparked a moral panic about the concern for children’s health driving the government to do more to protect children from becoming obese. Obesity is defined by BMI which stands for body mass index. BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight (in kg) by their height (in meters). To be classed as obese a person’s BMI would need to be over 30, and to be classed as morbidly obese, which is extreme cases of obesity the BMI would need to be 40 or above (Chambers and Wakely, 2002).
This is not what you expect to be talking about when discussing children, as the stereotypical image of a child is healthy and happy, getting plenty of exercise and being fed properly. However, Heaton-Harris (2009:14) provides an opposite portrayal, saying “Obese children are less active than the average pensioner”. She then goes onto explain that overweight children will get out of breath after 5 minutes due to the additional strain on the heart to pump excessively around the body, which is too large and demanding oxygen rich blood. It is clear from the statement that Heaton-Harris (2009) argues that obese children are very disadvantaged and unfit. Children are vulnerable and dependant on parents and guardians and it is their duty is to make sure their children are healthy and happy. Ford-Martin (2005) says that children learn by example and that as a parent or guardian you are their primary role model. The parents or guardians of children struggling with obesity are therefore failing their children as the child is severely unhealthy and is at risk of severe health problems. It currently can become a child protection issue if children are allowed to eat excessive amounts of food, or have a seriously unbalanced diet (Grady, 2012). In extreme cases children can be removed from parental or guardian care by the court due to the affecting factor, children being obese. The fact that children sometimes need protection from parents if they are obese is interesting and leads onto the discussion whether this should also be a punishable offence.
As it stands the definition of child neglect is, “a persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or developmental needs. Neglect includes failing to provide for a child’s health, education, emotional development, nutrition, clothing, shelter, safety and safe living conditions, and includes exclusion of the child from the home and abandonment. It is different from poverty, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), because it happens when there is failure to provide the resources to meet a child’s needs if those resources exist or should be available” (Bovarnick online, 2007).
This definition explains under current statute what would be classed as child neglect and as you can see this covers a very wide spectrum. Although it does say “failing to provide for a child’s health” (Bovarnick online, 2007).This could allow child obesity to fit into this category. Although generally the main focus of child neglect is failure to provide a child with something not allowing children excessive amounts of something.
The question this dissertation sets out to answer is whether or not child obesity presents the scope to be punishable by law under child neglect statute. The aims are to establish how much blame is on the media, technology and parents to establish whether or not it is justifiable to hold them responsible for the obesity state their child/children are in. This question will be looked at through current literature and interviews to see what people think about the issue also.
The first chapter discussing the role media and technology play on the obesity state of the youth in the UK. The second chapter puts forward the debate on whether or not parents should take the main responsibility of their children’s obesity state. The third and final chapter deliberates the on-going debate on the issues of child obesity being a form of child neglect taking into consideration both of the discussed issues presented in the previous chapters. The impending investigation takes the format of a literature review, which incorporates interviews also. There is extensive literature on the topic of child obesity in the UK which is taken advantage of in the format being used to answering the question set out. As well as gathering qualitative data from interviews to get opinions and see if they back up the literature found.
Chapter 2: Methodology
“The methods section is the most important aspect of a research paper because it provides the information by which the validity of a study is ultimately judged” (Kallet, 2004:1129).
2.1: Research design and rationale
Child neglect and child obesity are both current issues and can both impose health problems to children. It is an on-going debate whether child obesity should come under child neglect laws which can hold parents or guardians responsible and therefore punish them for the obesity state their child/children are in. These two topics for investigation are strongly linked and consequently showing a need to investigate them together and answer the question whether child obesity should be criminalised. The methodology used to conduct this investigation into child neglect and child obesity is mainly library based research but incorporated into the research investigation is a short interview to compare with the literature based findings.
The methodological approach needs to fit the purpose and the question being researched. Therefore justification for the methods used in any research being conducted needs to be established (Kumar, 2011). This is also backed up by Robson (2002), who articulates the data collected by the researcher in any topic is dependent on the particular research question and aims.
Winstanley (2009) and Saunders et al., (2007) state there are two categories research can be separated into; primary research and secondary research. According to Sorenson (2010) the difference between the two is how the research is gathered: primary research is collected by the researcher whereas secondary research is carried out using already existing data.
Secondary data according to Bryman and Bell (2007) and Zikmund (2003) is when, documents by other researchers are analysed by people most commonly not involved in the collection process. This allows experience and knowledge to be drawn from other academics which may be vital to the subject area being discussed. This paper is at an under-graduate level making expert knowledge and expertise crucial in making the paper of value in the academic world. Zikmund (2003) also draws attention to the lower cost, which is also a main advantage over primary data which can be expensive. Saunders et al. (2007) comment that secondary research allows a wide range of information to be gathered such as: quantitative, qualitative, descriptive and explanatory data. However every form of data collection comes with weaknesses. Secondary data may provide a lot of good quality information but may not link entirely with the given research questions and aims providing no value towards further research; this is something researchers need to consider. In a lot of instances it can be near impossible to find sufficient information (Zikmund, 2003). Also if pre-existing data is relevant, credible and specifically what the researcher needs to discuss time and effort designing and collating new research maybe a waste of the researcher’s time.
Secondary research was the main data collection method chosen as it seemed the best choice to answer the question on whether child obesity should or is criminalised. When talking about a debate that already exists it is paramount to include current literature, especially when this issue is a current governmental and political matter. With an abundance of existing research in this area, secondary data collection was the easiest method and the most appropriate main form of data collection. However the weaknesses pointed out do need to be noted as secondary data can provide such a wide scope of data and most of it may be irrelevant and only relevant data needs to be discussed, this will be discussed in more detail under the inclusion/exclusion of data. The debate on criminalising child obesity is a current one in the academic world however this dissertation took a new direction, by adding interviews as there would have been no point carrying out something that had been done before.
The secondary data gathered was in the form of a library based dissertation also known as a literature review. This is the main source of information being used to discuss the issues of child obesity and whether criminalising it is appropriate and considers: journals, newspapers, reports, textbooks, abstracts, media sources both electronically and in hard copy format (Hart, 1998). Hart says that a literature review is
” The selection of available documents on the topic, which contain ideas, data and evidence written from a particular standpoint to fulfil certain aims or express certain views on the nature of the topic and how it is to be investigated and the effective evaluation of these documents in relation to the research being proposed (1998: 13).”
Literature reviews are seen as very important and as Aveyard (2010: 6) explains them to be like “jigsaw puzzles” as you piece each part of the puzzle (piece of literature) together to give the reader the overall picture. Therefore playing an important part allowing all relevant information on a given topic to be in one place at the same time, this brings to light conflicting academic works to be seen together which may have gone unnoticed before. This type of research can also incur new insights to be drawn as a result of re-analysing previous sources. However Aveyard (2010) notices they are useful but in order to be reliable they need rigour and structure. The idea is not to find literature to back up the desired answer but to open-mindedly collate information to reach and answer on a predefined question. This is very important as literature reviews permits the overall picture to be seen and therefore hopefully eliminating bias so the researcher needs to adhere to this and this why it is vital that a systematic approach is taken. Hart (1998) establishes that literature reviews need to present all available documents on the chosen topic not just selected few to give the reader everything to make up their mind. This poses a difficulty as the resources available to an under graduate student will not allow a team of researchers and there are time constraints. This is why a systematic approach will be adhered to but may not reach the exact same criteria a fully funded and resourced literature review will.
To present information to allow a reader to reach his/her own conclusions on the predefined question, whether childhood obesity should be criminalised, it will be thoroughly researched selecting only relevant information. The systematic approach used key terms (Appendix 2: 54) to search the library data base at Buckinghamshire New University and the internet. This was systematic do uncover any relevant literature which ensured everything relating to the topic was read and if found useful was then included in the discussion.
However this is not the only form of data collection being used as primary research is also being used in the form of interviews which shapes the literature already in circuit to cater directly to the needs of the question and objectives giving and already existing topic area a new direction. The dissertation aims to uncover not only current issues and debates but people’s attitudes and thoughts which are only possible if opting to incorporate primary data also that adds value to the issues being presented. The interview questions were formed around the literary findings, which then allowed the literature and interviews to be compared and discussed.
Interviews were conducted as part of the research which is one of the main methods of gathering primary data; permitting data to be brought together that has not been gathered previously. Ghauri et al. (2005) highlights one of the main advantages of using primary research methods is the data is going to be relevant as it is specifically gathered to the specialised research area, this is also backed up by Zikmund (2003). Being able to shape the data being gathered to suit the needs of the study allows consistent information to be provided. Saunders et al. (2007) points out that a main limitation to primary research is interviewee and interviewer bias when using focus groups. The research in this study does not involve focus groups for this exact reason to decrease the chance of bias. However the interviewee’s and interviewer were criminology students and may present a bias for that reason. Having bias makes it less reliable which affects the validity and also makes it hard to generalise results, this is something to be taken into consideration for this study. Nevertheless this is a valid point and makes the study less reliable but not an easy issue to overcome given the ethical restrictions and materials available for the study.
The library based element and the interview section are both focusing on qualitative data, however there will be some secondary data featured in the form of quantitative statistics jotted throughout. Bryman (2001: Page number) describes qualitative research to be a “strategy that usually emphasizes words, feelings, perception, and qualitative research tends to be concerned with words rather than numbers”. The point of the dissertation is to look into the perception people have and the way society see child obesity and what they think in regards to it being criminalised. Hoepfl (1997) stated that qualitative research allows data to discover the meaning of events rather quantitative using numbers to establish facts. Qualitative data provides the means to find out what people’s attitudes and intentions are about fundamental topics (Ghauri et al, 2005). This permits researchers to broaden knowledge and insight in their chosen topic. This is very useful and one of the main reasons interviews were picked was to develop an understanding of whether obesity is seen as criminal as it will give an insight to people’s opinions on the issue as well as comparing it to current literature available.
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Interviews were chosen as they have potential to gain rich and insightful data (Robson, 2011). Sarantakos (1988) highlights the main advantages of interviews are: there flexible and adaptable, they directly ask the questions and can assess non-verbal behaviour, which can sometimes reverse the meaning. Robson (2007) also highlights that direct face to face interviews have advantages as you can measure the seriousness which participants take the exercise and you get a higher response rate as it is harder to say no. Although Sarantakos also points out that there are disadvantages such as biases are hard to rule out and that interviews are very time-consuming considering the time it takes to transcribe interviews. Interviews were picked from this study to gage an understanding of what people thought about childhood obesity as from interviews you can directly ask the questions you need answered. It was tailored to the topic of the dissertation which allowed the discussion of both literature and the data found in the interviews. Interviews not only helped to gage an understanding and present data for discussion but as it was done whilst the literature was being gathered it showed areas that were in need for research to cover the topic of child obesity. For example, in one interview the topic of illnesses and diseases that can make you obese was discussed about bringing to light this new area to be included.
The interviews will be carried out on two separate days with 5 interviews on one day and 5 on the other. All interviewees were handed a leaflet (Appendix 3:55-56) to inform them that the interview will remain anonymous and that they can stop at any time and this leaflet is then signed by each interviewee to ensure consent is present. Participant numbers will be used when discussing in the main paper and no names will be included within the dissertation to keep identities confidential. There will also be a verbal introduction read out to participants to ensure consistency (Appendix 4: 57). 10 students will be asked the same three questions in the same order. Interviewees will be both genders but all over the age of 18 attending Buckinghamshire New University. They were interviewed in a rentable room in the library of Bucks New University. All interviews were recorded on a Dictaphone and transcribed after all participants had completed the interview. The interviews will be structured and based upon four questions (appendix 4: 57). Interviewees were asked to explain their answers in as much detail as they could.
A main advantage of the research design is that it incorporated both secondary and primary research by being a library based review including short interviews to compare and possibly back up the literature based findings. The disadvantages of just doing one form of research will be minimised as you will decrease the disadvantages of doing primary or secondary by using both. For example a main disadvantage of using primary research is researcher bias which can still occur but will be compared to other literature on the same topic so this will be minimised, this makes the results found in the dissertation a higher validity.
2.2: Data Analysis
2.2.1 Library Based Research
A library based search is an analytical overview of literature on a given topic. In order to present the literature found in from the library search it was thoroughly studied and then broken down into the three chapters. They were broken down into chapters to specifically analyse each section of information uncovered giving the direct access to then compare to the interview findings.
Gibbs (2007) describes coding as the direction you take when analysing your data, where you systematically link together similar theories and descriptions. Robson (2011) explains the importance of thematic coding has to drawing points of interest out of data. Thematic coding was used to analyse the data gathered from the interviews as the reason they were carried out was to gage what people thought about child obesity. The interviews consisted of people’s thoughts and ideas and being able to dissect the meaning of these gives value to the data collected and transforms it to a functional format, this is then used when discussing the issues that arose. Being able to identifying general themes from the interviews was necessary in understanding more about the phenomenon. It was especially useful in pin pointing specific areas in need for discussion as child obesity is a broad topic; this was how the chapters were chosen.
There were a lot of advantages to thematic coding such as: flexibility, being easy to pick up, within reach to those with little or no experience and it allowed key features to be summarised which then made it easy to remark on in the chapters. However the main disadvantages these were: being flexible it gave the potential for a broad range of data which could then be confusing to interpret and use and that coding may be limited to description or exploration and not very focused towards interpretation (Robson, 2011).
Robson (2011) then goes onto describe the five phases to thematic coding: the first phase is familiarising yourself with data, the second phase generating initial codes, the third identifying themes, the fourth constructing thematic networks and the fifth and final phase integration and interpretation stage. Miles and Huberman (1994) mention that there are more than one stage to coding the first level is attaching labels to groups and the second putting the initial themes into a smaller amount of themes.
2.3: Inclusion/Exclusion of Criteria
Research materials included in the research investigation would need to be from the UK and information from other countries or discussing other countries will be excluded as the points will not be as relevant, unless it specifically addresses the UK or is used in a comparative style. Another crucial point is the date period which is something the researcher should be aware of (Zikmund, 2003). If a publication was older than 10 years it is not likely to still be of importance, however in the case of childhood obesity it seems to be a newly mediated topic which can mean that all information is still of relevance. So literature that is older than 10 years will only be included if it seems to still be of significant importance or a pivotal point for discussion.
Chapter 3: Child Obesity, media and technology
“Of course, with the important role comes responsibility, the media must operate in an ethical and responsible way” (Browne, J, 2011, online).
This chapter looks at the part media and technology play in the child obesity epidemic. The media cannot be punished for neglecting children as they do not owe the same duty of care parents do, establishing how much the media affects the problem of obesity nevertheless will benefit the overall argument. It can be broken down into three categories, firstly the rise in technology, which has increased sedentary activities among youths. Secondly, with the issue of child obesity increasing this has led to an upsurge of media coverage on the issue (Kim and Wills, 2007), the ways in which the issue is portrayed may too affect child obesity. Thirdly studies have shown that advertising of junk foods may be directly linked to the increase of child obesity, and has been a topic of much discussion in recent years. It is important to remember that not only are media there to inform but they aim to educate and entertain and are getting paid so it is important to remember they may have hidden agendas (Melville-Brown, 2007) as well as their aim being to publicise health problems not rectify them.
3.1: Literature Findings
3.1.1 Sedentary lifestyles amongst youths
The involvement children have with physical activity has noticeably decreased over the past 20 years. Dr Watkins (cited in Cole and Kmietowicz, 2007:334) stated that “free range children have been replaced with battery reared children reared in cyberspace, and that’s the reason for the epidemic of childhood obesity”. This highlights that the increased participation in sedentary activities, that are more readily available for the children of today, play a huge role in their lives and may impact on the statistical increase of childhood obesity. The changes in lifestyle that causes lack of physical exercise and the consumption of more high in fat foods are thought to be major influences to obesity, even when taking into consideration genetic causes that are coming to light more and more (Warren et al., 2003). What are the pin point changes in society that caused this change in lifestyle? We now live in an instant culture (Heaton-Harris, 2009). Children in today’s society spend their time playing video games and socialising on the internet rather than meeting face to face. It is these sedentary pursuits that allows children to do little exercise and encourages them to snack more. Ford – Martin (2005) found that 92% of children had a home gaming system and the average time a day children spend in front of a media screen is 6 and a half hours. It is no wonder that child obesity is on the rise and physical activity is at an all-time low among young children. It is starting at such a young age as a Kaiser family foundation study (cited in Ford-Martin, 2005) found that a third of all children aged six and younger had their own televisions in their bedrooms. The children of today do not know anything different than sitting down in front of computers and televisons. It is not that sedentary activities are what children are most commonly engaging in. It is worrying because it is replacing physical exercise of youth altogether (Ofcom, 2004).
Ofcom (2004) emphasise that there is a correlation between watching television, poor diet, poor health and obesity with children and adults. Steinbeck (2001) links the decrease in physical activity to the increase of child obesity; Biddle, Gorely and Stensel (2004) believe this to be true also. It would appear to attempt overcoming the child obesity epidemic children need to lessen their time involved in sedentary activities and partake in more physical activities.
3.1.2 Media Coverage
Rodgers (2009, online) believes there is currently a panic surrounding child obesity in the UK with this sudden rise of media attention. Marsh and Melville (2011, online) describe moral panics as an exaggerated social reaction to something embraced by the mass media, which is caused by the activities of certain groups and/or individuals. This becomes the source of major public concern that amplifies the ‘panic’ surrounding such activities.
The TV series ‘Jamie’s school dinners’ (2005), presented by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, made a huge impact on child obesity, the media coverage on the topic and public perceptions. The Chef uncovered that 97% of school children were getting a totally unbalanced diet on a daily basis and this needed to change for the benefit of children’s health. A nutritionist on the series explained that the current school dinners lacked fruit, veg and vitamin C which are crucial in forming immunity (Jamie’s School Dinners, 2005). The TV series not only changed the public perception, more importantly led to changes by the government to ensure children had healthier school dinners.
The Department for Education (2013), explains the government’s current stance that there are strict nutrient-based standards that all schools in England need to comply with. This includes food and drink that can be obtained throughout a school day. The Government clearly state that they take the issue of healthy school dinner’s seriously, as it can affect children’s willingness to learn, behaviour and eating habits for life. The School’s Food Trust (2007, online) is a document that sets out the compulsory standards the Government insisted on that needed to be in place by September 2009. A 2011 article in the Sunday Observer shows that since the positive change to healthier school dinners that there has been an increase in not only learning as test results show but absences have dropped by 14% (Boffey, 2011). The media therefore has positive effects as well as negative.
The media has seen to be useful for informing people about child obesity and helping to overcome the epidemic, as Jamie School Dinner’s is a prime example. However the media is widely known to provide misconceptions, which could worsen the issue. As it has been discussed child obesity is prominently featured in the media. When an important issue such as a child’s health is at stake it is important that the issue is honestly portrayed ensuring it can be dealt with effectively. An argument is that the media portray only the extreme cases of obesity as that would be ‘shocking’ news stories (Winterman, 2012). This then leads people to think that to be obese you would need to be extremely obese which may be cause for confusion and misunderstanding. As shown when half of parents underestimated the size of an obese child which implies that the media maybe the cause of this dangerous misconception (Winterman, 2012). If parents are misinformed by the media this could have life threatening affects for children who are obese, especially if it encourages the parents to believe that their children are not obese and do not take much needed action.
It has also been noted that prime time TV shows about obesity, that dominate popular channels, give the wrong impression about obesity also. Boyce and Inthorn, (2007) studied programmes that were dedicated primarily to obesity, and came to the realisation that the shows directed blame on individuals generally rather than a public health issue. They tended to give the impression that it was down to self-control and discipline of the individual, with weight control being easily attainable as a result. The study also found that the programmes failed to improve levels of knowledge on obesity as it used shame and humiliation to persuade people to lose weight not knowledge. Jones (2006) backs this relaying that lack of correct information is a key problem. Rees et al. (2011) interviewed children about obesity, and they also shared the opinion shared by most TV programmes on obesity and thought if a child was obese they were to blame as it was something the media made out to be controllable. This false idea that obesity is easily controllable is wrong and may cause a lot of bullying in schools.
It’s not just TV programmes that are thought to be affecting the ideas around child obesity; also adverts for unhealthy food are being blamed for the increase in child obesity (Carvel, 2003). It had been established beyond reasonable doubt that advertising of unhealthy products influences what children not only eat and drink but also the brands they prefer. Boyce, (2007) agrees that advertising is widely seen to encourage unhealthy consumption, particularly with children, as food is the most frequently advertised product on children’s TV. Coon and Tucker (2002) conducted a literature review into journal articles and concluded based on their findings that children exposed to advertising were significantly more likely to opt for advertised food products than those not exposed. Ofcom (2004) provided research also to suggest that there is a direct link to children’s food choices and advertisement.
The report written by Barclay (2011) expresses clearly the government’s stance, which indicates that they strongly agree junk food adverts encourage children’s ill health. From July 2007 such adverts were not restricted but totally banned from children’s TV by Ofcom, in what one would presume