Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Am I Naive? Do I Just Not Get It?

First let me say thank you to everyone who commented last week and over the weekend on my post Should Parents Lose Custody of Obese Kids? I always appreciate every comment including those that challenge my beliefs. In fact, usually I learn more from dissenting opinions than ones that agree. So please, keep the comments coming.

Last week I received 4 dissenting comments and no commets in favor of my stance that parents should be at risk of losing their children if their children are super obese and develop medical complications. As I read Facebook conversations from other bloggers I quickly realized that most people in the real food community were squarely against the idea. Yet...the arguments, both on facebook and my blog, against the custody battle centered around nutrition theory, government involvement and personal freedoms. After reading several comments, I believe I have started to understand their position.

A primary tenant of the real food community is freedom. Freedom to eat what one wants, to grow what one wants, to have the access to buy the food that one chooses, etc. The government mandates much of our lives today, how fast we drive, what we can buy and sell, where we can go abroad, what we can eat (or at least what food products make it to market at all, in essence, what we eat) and how we have to act in our community with one another. Some things we all agree on, it should be against the law to kill people. I think we all agree on that one. As we get into the area of personal freedoms, we get more gray, with the government acting more like our mother. They would like to prevent injuries and other maladies from befalling our citizens and so they take away certain personal freedoms, like your ability to purchase raw milk. The Patriot Act is another example where the government had the right to detain anyone that was suspected of terrorism or treason. I am all for such a law IF we can be assured that it will only be used against the bad guys. But, ha ha ha, I am not THAT naive. The problem with The Patriot Act was always, what's to stop police officers to use such a law against anyone, for anything they choose? I was not a supporter of The Patriot Act. I felt our criminal laws and the warrant process was strong enough that it should have supported those suspected of terrorism too.

I also believe that it should be legal to sell raw milk. And that anyone who wants raw milk should be able to buy it. But...people do get sick from raw milk. It is highly perishable, and even in good farms can be contaminated, so how exactly does the government protect those who drink raw milk? And once big business has identified raw milk as a growing business opportunity, what is to stop a huge dairy from producing really risky raw milk from CAFO dairy cows? You might never want to drink such potentially risky milk, but who is to say that other folks out there will always be as educated as you? Even government laws that are a thorn in our side protect some people. Perhaps such a law infuriates you, but someone else might feel differently. (FYI-I am playing the role of devil's advocate, no need to rail against me in some email educating me about raw milk, I do get it.)

In the case of parents losing custody of super obese kids, I think it is important to clarify a few facts. Although around 70% of the US population is overweight or obese, less than 6% is considered super obese, or super morbidly obese, i.e.-having a BMI of more than 45. In the case of adults, we have the right to eat whatever we want and however much we want. But in the case of children, they aren't able to buy their own food because they are legally not allowed to work. So when a child presents at a doctor's office with a BMI thay distinguishes him as being morbidly obese, of course a doctor is going to start asking questions and give medical advice.

And let's say for example that there is such a child who has been advised by their doctor to adopt a more healthy lifestyle, and the child's parents do nothing to help their child. So perhaps the state is called, and a social worker says, "You as a parent need to help your child eat less fast food and become more active." If that same child continues to come back getting heavier and heavier and the parents have done nothing to follow the advice of their social worker and doctor, at what point does it constitute medical neglect? When a parent sends a child to school with jelly beans and a liter of soda for lunch is that neglect? Maybe not if it only happens once, but what about when it happens every day? The parent has provided their child with adequate calories but zero nutrition. And if counseling and intervention aren't working and parents continue to give their limited nutrition in a high calorie package, what do you do as a social worker? Look the other way? And do you continue to look the other way while the child develops Diabetes and begins to lose her ability to interact with children her own age?

In my opinion, no. This argument is not about food plans and USDA recommended nutrition. It is not about ultra-pasteurized milk, low fat fake foods or excessive grains in the diet. This isn't even about the government trying to tell us what to eat. This whole argument isn't about heavy kids, or even those who are classicly considered just obese (i.e.-a BMI of over 30). This is about NEGLECT, plain and simple. Parents don't have the right to neglect their kids. Our laws say that very clearly. There is no additional law needed to take super-obese kids away from theit parents if the state feels that they are being neglected.

However I do think I am getting it. Real Foodies value freedoms and do not appreciate the governments two cents. And we are in a time of less personal freedoms in this country. Perhaps if we could guide our leaders to reform our litigation laws we could return to a time with less government involvement. So I am there with everyone. All I am saying is that this isn't a case of personal freedom. Parents need to take care of their kids. Not every parent needs to be perfect, in fact none of us ever will be. But, as a parent, you need to keep your kids from dying. And I truly believe that this is all that Ludwig was ever trying to say. The state neither wants to, nor does it have the resources to take every obese child away from their families. That was clear to me from the original article. With 70% of the population overweight where would these kids all go??!! And certainly there are cases where a super obese child is clearly not being neglected, that is why social workers review cases before taking action. I would hate for any child to fall through the cracks. So now, I hope you see where I am coming from.


  1. I agree with you that existing laws and guidelines are sufficient to deal with clearly neglectful parenting that has led to medical issues that can be life-threatening or severly impact the child's ability to thrive. Extending them to less clear cases puts us on the slippery slope. There is a legal maxim that hard cases make bad law that applies to this area. The reality is that many social workers are not equipped (through lack of training, experience, or ability to function within the system) to make accurate determinations in less clear cases involving nutrition.

    In addition, there are forms of neglect that are not illegal and not grounds for removing children from their parents and nutrition, for the most part, falls under this. Parents may feed their children whatever they like as long as it does not lead to clear medically indicated threats to the child's ability to thrive, no matter how poor the nutrition provided is. Does sending a nutritionally devoid lunch to school constitute neglect? Only for super-obese children? What about merely obese children? What about children who are of an appropriate weight for their height? Who will determine the frequency required to trigger neglect complaints?

    I see this as a quagmire that has no clear paths to clean-up. It isn't just about neglect as only the severest cases constitute illegal neglect. It is about, in part, how we eat in this country as how we eat determines how we feed children. It is also about economic and class issues, which also have no clear solutions. (For example, many poor children are fed at school as much or more as they are fed at home. How responsible does that make the schools for the child's well-being in legal terms and what constitutes neglect there?)

  2. Anne, I really appreciate your thoughtful comment. I agree with everything you have said.

    However the reason I wrote this article was simply to say that it is in these severest cases where I think it may be advisable to explore foster care. I am not suggesting that anything outside the severest cases warrants such. However, there is controversy even surrounding these extreme cases. And I don't believe there was anyting in the original article that suggested that the Ludwig was suggesting otherwise. I don't believe that any state wants to pursue this outside the most extreme cases.

    Therefore I kind of felt that many of the comments I read on facebook kicked up a controversy and a political arguement that no one was trying to make. That's all I was trying to say.