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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fattest children to be taken away from their parents

Dangerously overweight children will have to be taken from their parents and put into care because of Britain's worsening "obesity epidemic", council leaders have warned.

One million children will be clinically obese within four years on current trends, storing up future problems from heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure and diabetes.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 400 councils in England and Wales, predicted social services teams would have to take drastic action to improve the health of seriously overweight children.

Social workers have only become involved very rarely in such cases, considering the issue is best tackled by parents.

But the LGA warned that social services might have to treat very fat children as victims of "parental neglect" – just as malnourished children are.

It predicted that social services would have to intervene "more and more" with obese children. It added that councils would have to take action against parents who put their children's health at risk, with the ultimate sanction of taking the fattest boys and girls into care.

The LGA said Britain was fast becoming the "obesity capital of the world" and the increasing weight of the average citizen was pushing up council tax bills.

The costs come from the need for bigger furniture in classrooms, canteens and gymnasiums to cope with larger pupils. Crematoria furnaces are being widened at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds for heavier corpses. Ambulances are being re-equipped with extra-wide and strengthened stretchers and winches. Fire services are called in to winch obese people out of dangerous buildings. Local authority homes are being adapted for the overweight.

Social services costs are rising due to caring for house-bound people suffering from conditions caused by obesity such as arthritis, heart disease and diabetes.

David Rogers, the LGA spokesman on public health, said: "Councils are increasingly having to consider taking action where parents are putting children's health in real danger. Councils would step in to deal with an undernourished or neglected child, so should a case with a morbidly obese child be different? If parents place children at risk through bad diet and lack of exercise is it right for a council to keep the child's health under review?

"It is vital that councils, primary care trusts and the NHS work with parents to ensure children don't end up dangerously overweight in the first place. There needs to be a national debate about the extent to which it is acceptable for local authorities to take action in cases where the children's welfare is in jeopardy."

The Government faced criticism this month after it announced plans to warn parents if their child had a weight problem, but banned the use of the word "obese". The Department of Health is instructing primary care trusts to inform all parents automatically about their child's height and weight as part of a national measuring programme.

But ministers do not want the word "obese" to be used in the letters after research showed people find it "highly offensive".

A public health expert, David Hunter, of Durham University, this week warned that rising obesity levels posed as a grave a threat to Britain as terrorism and urged "bold action" by ministers.

1839: Photography Goes Open Source

1839: With a French pension in hand, Louis Daguerre reveals the secrets of making daguerreotypes to a waiting world. The pioneering photographic process is an instant hit.

Using chemical reactions to make images with light was not quite new. Doing it fast was. Inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niepce created a rough image using silver salts and a camera obscura, or "dark box," in 1816. The image faded away quickly.

Another decade of work led to the first permanent photographic image, when Niepce fixed a shot of his courtyard onto a pewter plate. The exposure took eight hours in bright sunlight. Niepce continued researching in hopes of making the process faster and more practical.

Daguerre was a successful commercial artist hoping to increase the realism of his giant diorama paintings, some of them 70 feet long by 45 feet high. When using a camera obscura to sketch the outlines (or cartoons) for his paintings, he thought it would be better to create images directly with the camera. He began experimenting.

Daguerre's optician told him about Niepce's work. Daguerre and Niepce began a correspondence that turned into a partnership in 1829. Niepce died in 1833, and his son Isidore labored on. But it was Daguerre's advances with silver-plated copper sheets, iodine and mercury that cut exposure time down to minutes and created positive rather than negative images.

Daguerre was unable to sell his process by subscription, but it caught the interest of François Arago, perpetual secretary of the French Academy of Sciences. It was under the auspices of the academy that Daguerre first displayed his daguerreotypes to the public on Jan. 9, 1839. They created a sensation.

Arago used the buzz to lobby the French Parliament to grant pensions to Daguerre and Isidore Niepce, so they could make all the steps of the new process public and France would "then nobly give to the whole world this discovery which could contribute so much to the progress of art and science."

Parliament agreed: Daguerre got 6,000 francs (about $30,000 in today's money) per year and Niepce 4,000 francs per year. With a flurry of advance publicity, Daguerre and Arago made the technical details public on August 19. They also described Niepce's earlier processes, heliography and the physautotype, but presented the daguerreotype alone as having a future.

And what a future! Within days, opticians and chemists in Paris sold out of the supplies needed to make cameras and plates. Improvements to the process followed within weeks. Daguerre's instruction manual was translated into a dozen languages within months.

No one wanted to have a portrait painted; everyone wanted a daguerreotype. Studios opened all over Paris. "Daguerreotypomania" spread from Paris to the rest of France, then across the continent, across the channel to England and across the Atlantic to America.

Daguerre did more research, but not to much effect, as many innovators surpassed him. He died in 1851. Another decade and the daguerrotype would be largely supplanted by the albumen print, which made images on paper instead of metal.