Should Obese Children be Taken Away From Their Parents?

We all know that childhood obesity is a serious problem here in the United States. Sure, obese kids are unhealthy but is it child abuse?

Harvard University child obesity expert Dr. David Ludwig thinks so. He goes as far as to suggest that parents should lose custody of their fat children:

"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," Ludwig co-wrote with Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard's School of Public Health.

Do you agree? Should the state intervene and take morbidly obese children away from the parents and put them into foster care, even as a last resort?


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Too many children are already being snatched away from their birth mothers on a fallacy then placed in the hands of much worse carers who do much more damage. Better a few extra sausages to over-eat happily at home than to deal with the possibility of deep sadness and unsure outcomes that lie in State Homes and strangers homes.
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Who determines "obesity"? Was "obesity" defined in the same way in 1974 as in 2008? Of course these questions are moot in the light of the fact it is not any of the government's damned business.
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I'm sorry, but REALLY... this issue is very disturbing to me. It's worth reading the article (I'm not sure how many people did) because it at least provides one of the very few concrete pieces of evidence that does exist on this subject:


As it turned out, it was two unnecessary months of hell. Anamarie didn't improve at all in foster care, and she was returned to her parents. The young girl was later diagnosed with a genetic predisposition.

This refers to the very young child who was taken away from her parents several years ago and put into state custody because she was obese. As it turned out, it didn't do any good, and did do a lot of harm. Is this representative of what would happen if this were a common practice, or is it just a nonrepresentative occurrence? We don't know, because we don't have any research on the subject. When the research has not been done, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the null hypothesis has not been disproven (more about this later.)

And that's why this entire thing is-- or should be-- a no-brainer. Social services are *supposed* to be run on the basis of evidence-based practices. This means that if you'd like to use a therapeutic modality or intervention, you actually have to have some kind of proof that it works. (Yes, I'm an MSW-- called a QMHP in Oregon and some other states.)If anyone can actually prove that taking obese children away from their parents does any good at all in terms of the outcomes, then it *might* be justified-- although even then, that's a big if. However, the research has not been done, and there is no evidence base. Anecdotes and vague stories are not enough, although the only case studies we do have go in the other direction, such as the one above. It really says something that nobody ever seems to be able to even come up with an actual, verifiable case study showing that taking an obese child out of the family and into state custody simply on the basis of obesity-- not because of any other confounding factors, such as physical/sexual abuse-- has positive effects outweighing the negative ones. One case study in that direction wouldn't prove much of anything, but when we haven't even seen that,it's really disturbing to see anybody jump on this bandwagon so enthusiastically.

So that's why the only responsible, reasonable thing to do is to go with that null hypothesis, which has not been disproven-- and in this case, that would translate to keeping the family together if there are no signs of anything that has actually been proven to be abuse.It would be grossly unethical to do anything else, and as a social worker, I would do everything in my power to stop it if I found out that it was going on.
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There was no such thing as "snack time" when I was a little kid in the 70s, and parents didn't use food to hush a fussy toddler. Nor were there that many mass-marketed junk food option as there are today.

Everywhere you look, stores are pushing "fits in your SUV cupholder" snack cups filled with tiny bitesized crap, aimed at parents who think "if they're shoving food in their mouths, at least they're not screaming." Snack foods aren't an occasional rare treat for good behavior anymore. They're a routine occurrence that takes place several times a day. No wonder kids are growing up fat.
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