Thursday, July 14, 2011

Should Parents Lose Custody of Obese Children?: My Opinion

An interesting article came out yesterday all across the various internet news sites. Apparently, an opinion piece in the American Medical Journal released Wednesday states that in some cases putting an obese child in foster care is more ethical than surgery. Bariatric type surgery on young growing bodies is frought with controversy.

According to Dr David Ludwig, the hope is that state intervention "ideally will support not just the child but the whole family, with the goal of reuniting child and family as soon as possible. That may require instruction on parenting."

The various news reports did not comment on whether they think this is a good idea or not, that isn't their purpose. Fortunately I can. I imagine that the initial reaction to this story will be mixed with some folks coming out squarely against intervention while other brazenly claiming "if you can't take care of your kids..." I don't think that address the issue.

If you consider the current system and laws, a child may be removed from his home if his parents are neglecting him. This includes a parent who does not provide enough food for their child. A parent can also have their children taken away for medical neglect, i.e.-willfully not administering prescribed medication, or not seeking emergency medical care in the event of a serious condition or injury. I am pretty sure we all agree on that. The state reviews all cases before any child is taken away from their family. You may disagree with the quality of investigation that the state puts into these cases (I do not), and you may abhor the cases where kids fall through the cracks (I absolutely do). But, in that case what we are arguing about is the implementation of the law, not the law itself. The point of my post is the law.

I think super obese kids should be evaluated to see if the case warrants intervention. BUT I think this should happen at the point that kids are beginning to experience medical complications. Obesity alone is not enough reason to take a child away from their family. But when a child develops an otherwise preventable medical problem like Diabetes or difficulty breathing, it makes sense to me that some investigation should happen. And just because a social worker gets involved doesn't mean that foster care is the only path. It is logical that parents should be guided toward better nutrition education and parenting. The state taking custody of an obese child should be a last resort.

The article in the journal of the AMA was an opinion piece, not a politician speaking out in favor of writing a law surrounding this. And for what it's worth, it is already happening. The Yahoo Shine version of the story mentions the case of a three year old who was 90 pounds when she first met with Ludwig. By 12 she was 440 pounds and had developed sleep apnea, cholesterol problems, diabetes, etc. She was placed in foster care, given proper nutrition, and lost 130 pounds after one year. She may still be obese, but the articles mention that her medical conditions have abated.

I don't think anyone is suggesting a blanket approach to this problem. We all must remember that the laws are set up to help kids, not vilify parents. But, if your actions as a parent are creating medical problems in your child, the state should absolutely consider if removing the child from his family is neccessary.

Read the ABC News article:
Should Parents Lose Custody of Super Obese Kids?

This post is shared with Simple Lives Thursdays and with Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays


  1. I see your stance on this. I, however, still have qualms about it. Who judges what is the best diet? Does it need to be the government-advocated diet that is low-fat, high-grains, etc? Just a thought...

  2. I agree w/Krista. Who says what is "healthy"? What's to say the parents are already feeding the obese kid low fat foods and cheerios?

  3. I also have concerns over who decides. But more than that, what if we end the corn subsidy so that all the cheap modified foods are no longer so cheap or so plentiful. That might be a better option. Stopped over from Fight Back Fiday.

  4. I think mandatory courses on healthy eating, cooking, and maintaining a budget would make more sense. Provide some sort of family nutrition and exercise education. It would cost less for taxpayers given the rate that childhood obesity is rising. I disagree with removing children who are obese but otherwise well loved and cared for. I believe they'd suffer much more if forcibly removed from their families and given over to the care of complete strangers.