From time to time MCNtalk has touched on the subject of childhood obesity. Per this article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the subject is meriting serious attention, with dramatic solutions being discussed.
Should morbidly obese children be taken from their parents and put into foster care? This was the question discussed in a commentary piece last month by obesity expert David S. Ludwig of Children’s Hospital Boston and lawyer Lindsey Murtagh of the Harvard School of Public Health. They explored this solution at a time when the rates of obesity in U.S. children over the last 30 years have tripled.
“In severe instances of childhood obesity, removal from the home may be justifiable from a legal standpoint because of imminent health risks and parents’ chronic failure to address medical problems,” wrote Murtagh and Ludwig.
But, they added, “the decision to pursue this option must be guided by carefully defined criteria . . . with less-intrusive methods used whenever possible,” and the two are quick to point out that “morbid obesity” is the key point: Imminent risk – where children are really in lethal situations – is the only reason children can be removed from parental custody.
Bill Lawhorn, a supervisor of Court Appointed Special Advocates in Philadelphia, says that, in more than 30 years with the child-welfare system, he has never seen a case of removal based solely on obesity and that to do so would be a logistical challenge.
“Child welfare is hard-pressed to respond to adjudicate matters of abuse and neglect, let alone dietary concerns and lifestyle, or following through on healthy choices,” Lawhorn said.
Reporting laws in a handful of states, including Pennsylvania, could possibly make removals happen, though. Such laws require that doctors contact child services if they think chronic parental neglect has resulted in morbidly obese complications – like failing to comply with doctors’ orders for weight-related diabetes and sleep apnea.
But placing blame solely on parents would be shortsighted, according to Daniel Taylor, a pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia and the founder of the Children’s Advocacy Project, known as Cap4Kids. Decades of societal neglect are actually to blame for our obesogenic generation, he said, citing the areas of food-industry regulation, investments in safe outdoor play, and portion-control regulation as elements that have been ignored.
Clearly the root causes need to be found and addressed; lifespans in the United States are seriously lagging behind rates in other developed nations, with obesity being one of the main culprits for the gap. Obesity and its complications are a major social, emotional, and economic drain on Americans. Perhaps removing children from their homes is not the actual solution, but it does frame the discussion in drastic terms: which is probably how it should be framed.