Parents who smoke in front of their child in a car are guilty of a form of child abuse, claims one of the UK’s leading GPs.
Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners has spoken out strongly against what he sees as a neglectful generation, which is ignoring its health and that of its children.
Writing in yesterday’s Observer newspaper, Professor Field said parents who smoked in front of their children or fed them junk food were consigning the younger generation to a lifetime of heart disease, diabetes and even premature death.
Parents had to face up to the serious impact that their own personal behaviour was having on their children, he said, and urged them to become healthy role models so that their children could have longer, healthier lives.
Professor Field called on adults to take more personal responsibility for their own health and lifestyle, claiming that parents who smoked in cars carrying small children were “committing a form of child abuse”.
In the letter, he wrote: “The truth, which may be unpalatable to some, is that too many of us, too often, neglect too many aspects of our own personal health behaviour, and this is leading to increasing levels of ill-health and early death.
“Public health is a sensitive subject. It’s not easy to strike the right balance between protecting people’s sensibilities and delivering the hard facts about their personal behaviours that are ultimately shortening their lives.
“Too many people do not face up to the hard facts, as they perceive them to be an attack aimed, in particular, at the poorer members of our society, when it is impossible to argue on medical or ethical grounds, that such behaviour is acceptable.”
Professor Field said GPs were not “spoilsports or merchants of doom and gloom” and everything they did was based on evidence and a desire for people to live healthy, fulfilling and productive lives for as long as possible.
“But every day we are confronted with the sharp end of harm caused by smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and the tsunami of obesity.”
Professor Field acknowledged that people needed long term support in changing their lifestyles and GPs had a key role to play.
“Sensible, timely and appropriate interventions can help make people aware of the potential risks they are taking or the harm they may be doing and can change their behaviour or prevent extensive damage,” he said.
“Please don’t take offence if we tell you to lose weight or stop smoking or drinking. You need to face facts and take responsibility but support is out there and together, we can help people live long, happy, fulfilling and healthy lives.”