Child Obesity and Parental Guilt? Losing Childhood

Should Parents Lose Custody of Severely Obese Children?

Child obesity has become an epidemic in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 17 percent (12.5 million) children and teens are obese. To put it in context, that is equal to the entire population of Zambia, a country in Southern Africa which is equal in size to the State of Texas. So, imagine the whole of Texas filled with Obese children. One wonders why one of the richest and most advanced nation in the world, would be miserably failing to deal with this deadly issue.

Is America Healthy?

The answer is an absolute NO. America is currently a very unhealthy nation.

In a recent move to raise advocacy against childhood obesity, Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity expert at Children's Hospital in Boston, in an opinion piece co-authored with Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard's School of Public Health, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Parents, proposed a very radical move. Their argument is that, parents of severely obese children should lose their custody. I kind of agree with their school of thought, although it must be approached with caution.

As Ludwig argues, "State intervention may serve the best interests of many children with life-threatening obesity, comprising the only realistic way to control harmful behaviors."

"In severe instances of childhood obesity, removal from the home may be justifiable, from a legal standpoint because of imminent health risks and the parents' chronic failure to address medical problems."

They made it clear that removal from parents was not necessarily the solution for all obese children and should be only as a last alternative in the most extreme of cases. However, I don't think we should wait for a child to be in desperate condition for us to intervene. There are certainly obvious signs that can be used to start the intervention. It is easier to deal with the obesity in its early stages than when it has already started affecting other areas of the child's health, such as alertness and concentration in school, hypertension or diabetes, and other heart related conditions.

Dangers of Obesity

Obesity does not just affect a child's size and weight. Most children develop life-threatening illnesses in the process, such as type 2 diabetes, heart problems, mobility issues, high blood pressure and sleep disorders. Depression has also been cited by studies as a reason for suicidal tendencies among many obese children.

All these conditions contribute to lowering the child's quality and length of life. If a parent does not show any active concern, it seems logical, that state intervention might be an appropriate response here.

According to a study in The Journal of Pediatrics , infants who are overweight may be slower than thinner babies to develop their motor skills. They tend to be physically less active, and as such, are more likely to become obese. Evidence also shows that these children are likely to exhibit mental health issues such as isolation and depression. Obviously, you cannot hold the child responsible at this stage. It is the parents’ responsibility.

For extremely overweight children that develop complex health issues, taking them away from the unsupportive environment might be a better solution. This may sound horrific, but if looked at closely, it might well qualify under child neglect. After all the government already intervenes in cases where the child is malnourished and being mistreated. Why should it be different for an Obese child who is equally exposed to harmful health behavior?

Having the possibility of parents losing custody on record, would force some lazy parents and children to think twice about what they are eating and their lifestyle. Especially those parents who just don't care and continue to be adamant. After all, they don't care, otherwise they would do more or at least do something to help the child.

Some parents' only knowledge of meals is fast foods, which in most cases, are unhealthier food choices that are likely to lead to obesity. Many people would argue that the food industry needs to be held accountable for introducing horribly unhealthy foods, a point well justified. But the fast foods industry is not the one lifting the spoon to feed the child or stuffing those those french fries into their little mouths. It's the parents. Parents order the menus, and therefore, must be held accountable for making poor choices for their children.

Advocacy from the White House

It is impressive that the first Lady, Michelle Obama, has taken an active role and continues to advocate for a radical shift in our behavior and eating habits. We need to commend her for her efforts to rally the nation back onto a healthy path. It will take the effort and resolve of every parent, brother, sister, uncle or cousin. We all must do our part.

Otherwise, as someone said, "Sometimes it is easier to take the child out of the home, than take the time and resources to provide the right solution to the problem."

What do think you about the proposal? Share your thoughts and leave your comments below.

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Comments 16 comments

colca294cola profile image

colca294cola 5 years ago

This hub is interesitng as I was a chubby kid growing up. I had no acess to really play outside as my mom worked nights. I ate and ate all evening long if I wanted to. The thought of sending a parent to jail because of a childs weight seems very harsh. Now if a parent was force feeding their child that's abuse and illegal and jail might be appropriate along with counciling

Fuller-Life profile image

Fuller-Life 5 years ago from Washington, DC Author

I agree with you Colca294cola. I am glad you can share your personal experience. The situations are different. Sending them to Jail is extreme, but losing temporal custody to protect the child may not be that extreme if the risks of the child remaining in that environment are high. There're some parents that are just too lazy to care for their kids.

stace91 profile image

stace91 5 years ago

No parents should not lose custody, they should just be more educated with the risks n media should enforce proper statistics and advertise the risks over eating as much as they advertise junk food!!

stace91 profile image

stace91 5 years ago

By all means I love junk food n I love eating lol but sometimes all ppl need is a little motivation :)

Fuller-Life profile image

Fuller-Life 5 years ago from Washington, DC Author

Stace, I agree with you. But, what if extreme child obesity qualifies as child neglect? feeding your child poor nutrition should not be blamed on advertisers. Just like we don't go out there and buy every shampoo advertised.

Moms-Secret profile image

Moms-Secret 5 years ago from Central Florida

I really think that it does qualify as neglect! Especially since statistics show that a whopping 80% of obese children will be obese their entire lives. Their good choices are being stripped from them. There are also studies linking severe health problems including heart conditions extremely early in life, depression, anti-social behavior, and suicide.

I would have to say that when a child shows extreme obesity, parents should be warned, trained, supervised, then lose custody.

Fuller-Life profile image

Fuller-Life 5 years ago from Washington, DC Author

Moms-Secret, I get your point. It's extremely disheartening to find parents that don't really care how horrible their child's weight is and they even get so visibly upset when you try to courteously point out. Losing Custody for such parents must be on the table. I believe it's in the best interest of the child.

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Liola Lee 5 years ago

An interesting and thought provoking hub which will surely encourage discussion and engage people in debate. Childhood obesity is a growing problem here in the UK as well. I do not agree that children should be taken away from their parents as this seems so extreme but there is certainly a need for better education on good nutrition and improving activity levels. Also, I think that the media and the fast food giants should be held more accountable. There should also perhaps be more stringent regulations in what goes into food processing. Certainly something needs to be done. Also, as adults we need to set better examples. Thanks for sharing.

Fuller-Life profile image

Fuller-Life 5 years ago from Washington, DC Author

Thanks Liola. I know it's extreme. But we do it to parents with children who have chronic malnutrition. Shouldn't the law protect the severely Obese child as well?

Fuller-Life profile image

Fuller-Life 5 years ago from Washington, DC Author

I find it strange that some people think it's government interference in people's lives when the issue involves an Obese child, and claim government is doing its job when it rescues a malnourished skinny kid. What's up with that?

Dexter Yarbrough profile image

Dexter Yarbrough 5 years ago from United States

Hi Fuller-Life. Thought-provoking hub. The points are well-received. A severely malnourished kid would received immediate care from authorities but obese children are ignored in that regard. Our kids are in trouble. There is a great deal of information on childhood obesity - so there is no excuse for parents to neglect their children in regards to nutrition.

However, due to the high cost of healthier foods, some parents just can't afford better choices. The food industry really needs to be held more accountable for the ingredients placed in food.

Tough one for me, Fuller-Life.

Fuller-Life profile image

Fuller-Life 5 years ago from Washington, DC Author

Hi Dexter. Valid point about the cost of healthier food.The food industry needs to be held accountable so should the parents. The current trends of child obesity do not indicate a disproportionate impact on poor families. Rich families are equally impacted. So it's not necessarily an issue of failing to find good healthier food, but more of choice and behavioral patterns.

felicitylovespari profile image

felicitylovespari 5 years ago

Gosh. I think it's sad when parents don't properly raise their kids. But I can't see kids being taken away from their kids over this issue. For one, the expense involved would be too great for child services. But nevertheless, it should be dealt with somehow.

Additionally, you would have the camp weighing in that the child has some sort of a valid disease.

smcopywrite profile image

smcopywrite 5 years ago from all over the web

i believe that parents do have some responsibility to care for their children and if the obesity is not due to a health issue parents should be accountable. we need to define severely obese. if their health is affected is one guideline i would definitely use. thanks for this wonderful hub.

Fuller-Life profile image

Fuller-Life 5 years ago from Washington, DC Author

Felicity I agree with you on the measure being expensive. But if kids are going to die or end up being disabled, isn't it cheaper to pay now? After all we still find money to pay States to keep people that are arrested for minor offences of drug use or possession.smcopywrite, I guess severely Obese would mean levels deemed by medical experts as serious endangering the life of a child or having the potential to adversely affect the child's health.

Fuller-Life profile image

Fuller-Life 4 years ago from Washington, DC Author

The definition of severe obesity might be very difficult and subjective, but we must define it anyway. Obesity is here, and we must confront it with seriousness.

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