The Weight of Responsibility

Annette and I were saddened recently to read a report on the BBC Website about two severely overweight teenagers from West Sussex in the south of England who were taken from their parents to be placed in long term foster care because the parents were considered to have failed in sufficiently understanding or managing the children's health and care needs. The family had been provided with Fitbits and paid gym membership by the local authority in order to encourage them to exercise more, and they had also signed up to Weight Watchers. None of these incentives were adhered to, hence the reason for the parents being deemed to have failed in their duty of care.

What shocked us reading this story was the fact that two children, described in the report as being "polite, bright and engaging", were effectively forcibly removed from their parents because the parents had failed to understand the seriousness of their children's conditions, the importance of diet, nutrition and exercise and how to correctly apply these disciplines to everyday living. Is this ultimately the fault of the parents, even though they have a responsibility as parents? Is it a crime if the parents simply lacked the knowledge and understanding to make meaningful changes? Is this lack of knowledge sufficient reason to break up a family? Pause for a moment and consider the trauma the children will undoubtedly experience by being removed from their parents. What about the parents for that matter? There's no mention of an unhappy home or a lack of love, in fact the opposite is implied. Was there not some other option available that didn't involve ripping the family apart?

As a child and young adult, and in fact all through my life, I was overweight, and this was a concern for my parents. They encouraged me to try to lose weight, but they had no real idea of how I might do so other than to restrict the amount of calories I consumed. This rarely worked for more than a week or two, because I became bored and miserable and was unable to sustain such a regime. I now know better and have successfully achieved substantial weight loss and have maintained a healthy weight for several years, not because I diet, not because I count calories, and not because I restrict myself in any way. I simply discovered a completely new way of eating based on whole plant foods which effectively rebooted me. I was lucky, I have a loving partner, Annette, who helped me to learn this, and inspiring others to share in the pleasure we experience eating this way occupies us every day and is both our mission and the cornerstone of our business. Looking back, there is absolutely no degree of blame I would assign to my parents for my weight gain as a child. They, as much as I, were victims of an increasingly toxic food environment that is dominated by large industrial-scale processed food producers that know exactly how to hook us through their slick advertising and the laboratory-made products with their addictive tastes and textures

Unfortunately, all the details of the West Sussex case are not provided and we can only speculate about the full circumstances. But it serves as both a powerful reminder and indictment of the failings of our modern society and particularly those that govern to sufficiently encourage healthy eating from childhood through to old age. The obesity epidemic isn't a new phenomenon, it's been the subject of much debate and has occupied an enormous amount of newsprint and media discussion for decades now; countless solutions have been proposed and implemented, yet they have consistently failed to properly address or resolve the problem, and still the epidemic worsens year by year. Successive governments continue to offer soundbites and pledges that they will tackle the problem head-on, but the measures end up being nothing more than a compromise that are unable to slow this speeding train. They fail to hold the food industry sufficiently to account, they offer too much room for manoeuvre, there's an ingrained sense that it's down to individual responsibility. But how can the public make the right choices without first possessing the information to do so? Nutrition is rarely taught in the school curriculum, and it's still even only a minute part of the curriculum for those studying at medical school. There is so much conflicting information about what constitutes a healthy diet that it causes confusion. Are carbs bad, is fat good, what about protein?...and so it goes on.