Recently, two Harvard researchers made an advocacy claim that morbidly obese children should be taken away from their parents and placed into foster care. In the Journal of the Medical Association, Murtagh and Ludwig suggest that the state should interfere on behalf of these children. For example, they used the case of a 3 year old, who weighed 90 pounds, and at 12 years old was at 400 pounds. What they propose is that when there is a case of extreme obesity, the state should treat it as they would an underfed child.
After researching for my previous post on Obesity and how it affects the brains of kids, I am a bit torn on this issue. The researchers claim that in the extreme cases they have observed, the parents were advised repeatedly by healthcare professionals, etc. and do not lack the ability to incorporate weight loss measures. The parents just don’t care. And I have to admit, along with smoking, I do think knowingly exposing your child to harmful or deleterious substances/food/things is a form of abuse.
However, as a scientist I have to put on my critical thinking hat. First, the foster care system is already flooded with children (which breaks my heart). Would it strain an already over-strained system? Second, like smoking, while I abhor the lack of concern over the health effects, parents can smoke in front of their kids. Third, it seems like a thin line. Where do we draw the proverbial line in the sand? A 90-pound toddler seems atrocious, but what about a 70-pound toddler?
And before anyone gets on the “keep the government out of my business” rant, let us remind ourselves that our society can in no way benefit from NOT doing anything about this issue. These children will grow up with so many propensities towards bad eating habits and all of the (extensively) researched negative health effects that accompany obesity. I doubt most of these kids will grow into productive members of society. These parents are, in a sense, assisting in the exact opposite.
My final point is that I think the parents that let their kids so morbidly obese are probably dealing with their own issues. Maybe focusing on the weight loss and importance of good nutrition and exercise cannot be internalized due to other inner issues (previous abuse, etc.). Perhaps counseling would work? I don’t know. I think this is a really complicated problem with many layers. And I am still torn between wanting to protect the child (thus, removing the child) and realizing that this may oversimplify (and not really solve) greater issues.