Parents who don’t ensure their children eat properly or take enough exercise could be guilty of child neglect.
That’s the verdict of Chief Minister Allan Bell who has launched a stinging attack on levels of childhood obesity.
He is warning that lifestyle issues among young people as well as the growth in the elderly population are building up huge pressures for the future on the island’s health services.
Mr Bell said: ‘We need to wake up to the fact this is a very serious problem. Individuals must accept responsibility for safeguarding their own well-being.
‘In the case of families it is the parents who should be held responsible for ensuring that their children eat properly and take enough exercise. Failure to do so could be described as a form of child neglect.
‘When you think a parent caught slapping their child could be in court for child abuse, I don’t see why this should not equally be considered abusing their child.’
Evidence indicates levels of obesity in children and adults in the Isle of Man match those of the North West of England.
Levels of dental problems in children are also among the worst in the UK.
Mr Bell said the children themselves could not be blamed, or indeed their genes. The problem, he said, lay with lifestyle choices – and this was the responsibility of the parents.
He accepted the cost of buying healthier food could be problem for some families but a diet of burgers and fizzy drinks would lead to problems that would cost more in the long run with related problems such as diabetes and heart disease.
The Chief Minister is calling for national debate on the future funding of the Manx NHS. He said: ‘Making provision for an ageing population is a major issue for public services. In the Isle of Man we expect health spending on the over 75s to roughly double over the next 20 years.
‘But at the other end of the age spectrum there is concern that more young people are overweight or obese and exposed to the risk of serious health complications including diabetes and heart disease.’
He added: ‘There are real challenges here for government, our community as a whole and for individuals. The island needs a national debate on how we will fund health services into the future, but in the meantime we must continue to encourage and support healthy lifestyles, to promote healthy diets and exercise for all age groups.’