Is Childhood Obesity a Form of Abuse?
Over the past few decades, obesity – especially childhood obesity – has come to be regarded as one of the biggest health problems facing America. Obesity negatively affects every organ system in the body, and can lead to major health issues. It’s also one reason why life expectancy in America is thought to lag so far behind that of other developed countries. Ending this epidemic has recently become First Lady Michelle Obama’s pet project, with her initiative Let’s Move!
The Let’s Move! program focuses on teaching families how to raise their children in a healthy way, and encourages parents to set good examples for their kids. It also seeks to make nutritious food available in schools, and turn the battle against obesity into a community and family effort.
But some medical professionals believe that severe childhood obesity is a sign of criminal neglect, and that seriously obese children should be removed from their homes and placed in foster care. And that is exactly what happened recently, when an eight-year-old boy was removed from his home in Ohio. The third grader weighs over 200 pounds. A healthy boy his age usually weighs less than 64 pounds. It’s clear that the boy has a weight problem, but was it the right decision for the state to intervene by taking him away from his parents?
Doctors and government officials had been monitoring the boy’s weight for a year. They say that his parents were not doing enough to help him lose weight, and that he had to be taken into custody.
Earlier this year, obesity expert Dr. David Ludwig created a stir with an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He argued that state intervention should be considered when children are suffering from morbid obesity. Some medical professionals agreed, but Dr. Ludwig’s article also received harsh criticism. And many of the counterarguments used against Dr. Ludwig are coming back into play in the Ohio case.
First of all, foster care may not be effective. Almost a decade ago, there was another highly publicized case in which a three-year-old girl was taken from her parents because she was seriously obese. But she didn’t improve in foster care, and was later diagnosed with a genetic condition that predisposed her to obesity.
Some doctors say that the stress of taking the child away from his family could be dangerously traumatic. They argue that with the proper support from the state, the boy’s family could help him improve in a comfortable environment. Even Dr. Ludwig insisted that children should only be kept in foster care for short periods of time, and that the state needs to work closely with families.
So is it a parent’s fault if a child becomes morbidly obese? And does obesity qualify as abuse serious enough to remove a child from their home? Tell us what you think in the comments below.