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.
Campbell Keenan says
Taking kids aways from their families is a drastic step. Aborigenes in Australia suffered from this early last century by a well meaning state and the government had to apologise to ‘the stolen genertion’. Some heartbreaking stories emerged.
However it seems most affluent humans and of course children don’t have the self discipline to resist putting excess food of the wrong kind in their mouths. I think government intervention is needed – it worked with smoking. Parents through blogs like this and on school committees, etc. should insist on it. Government persuasion on TV is probably a good start.
More and more studies show that exercise, especially a sport that the child enjoys, is complementary to good nutrition and importantly, it helps children’s cognitive development, – they think more clearly, achieve better grades at school and grow into more balanced, self confident and happier adults.
Child (or adult) obesity is a recent disease of affluence. Many parents themselves are afflicted by it and are obsessed about the difficulty of losing weight, whereas I believe the solution is quite simple. In the 3rd world, it is rare to see obese people, whether adults or children. The latest ‘fad’ diet is probably not going to help. For some people, their metabolism converts food to weight very easily – it is ‘in their genes’ they say and if so, they have an efficient metabolism, because they don’t need much food to survive – they would be one of the fortunate ones in the ‘hunter gatherer’ days! Limiting intake is only a matter of degree.
As a kid, I grew up in New Zealand during the 2nd world war, when food was scarce and rationed. I remember only 2 kids out of 400 at my primary school who were overweight. One lived on a farm and ate dairy and other foods which were obviously not rationed or at least, were hard to ration by the authorities. The other had no interest in physical activity, but loved eating, particularly fatty fried food. Overweight adults were also a rarity.
I walk along the streets of Balmain in Sydney, after schools are out and most kids are eating ice creams, or consuming sugary drinks, bought for them by their mothers! When I grew up, the standard of living was much lower, but an ice cream or lemonade was a special treat, bought for me rarely.
Controlling a child’s obesity starts at home and parents need to set the example and use some old fashioned discipline. This is not always easy, but the ability to achieve it in a way that doesn’t turn children off is an art that parents can work at for a win/win result. Nutritious meals of a modest size, devoid if possible of processed or fast food is a great start. If the meal size is too large, parents should remove the excess and put it out of sight, as most people, including children (and me) can’t resist eating what is put in front of them. See http://fitnessforum.us