Opinion Brief

Should parents lose custody of their obese children?

Two Harvard researchers provocatively suggest that kids might slim down if they were temporarily taken away from "inadequate" moms and dads

Obesity is a major problem in the U.S., especially for America's 2 million extremely obese children. Some of those kids will develop diabetes and other obesity-related problems that will kill them by age 30, say Harvard researchers Dr. David Ludwig and Lindsey Murtagh in an opinion article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The epidemic is caused, in part, by "inadequate or unskilled parental supervision," the Harvard team says, and the answer might be placing more extremely obese children in foster care, at least temporarily. Is that really in kids' best interest?

Seizing kids is too extreme: The "epidemic of blubber among children" is America's "single biggest health crisis," says Arthur Caplan at MSNBC. "But forcing heavy children out of their homes is not the solution." The only justifiable reason for the state to take custody of a child is if there's threat of imminent, preventable death. A better approach would be to change our food culture. As we did with smoking, let's "demonize the companies that sell and market food that is not nutritious."
"Obesity alone is no reason to remove kids from their homes"

But obesity does start in the home: The "childhood obesity blame game" can quickly get out of hand, says Michelle Fiscus at Patch. But let's face it, the biggest influence on a kid's weight is his parents. And if "parents can't tackle their child's weight on their own, then it may be time to call in an expert." It's a parent's job to make sure kids are active and eat well, but they also "have to lead by example." That means if you "self-medicate with food," your kid will, too.
"The childhood obesity blame game"

The problem is bigger than parenting: Even as a temporary solution, separating parents and children so moms and dads can be taught how to take care of their kids is a flawed strategy, says Francisca Ortega in the Houston Chronicle. "Child Protective Services may not be the best organization to deal with the problem." The foster care system is there to deal with "abuse and neglect." But the underlying cause of the obesity surge seems to be poverty, not just lousy parents. If we want to slim down our kids, we need to address socioeconomic inequalities, too.
"Doctors: Parents should lose custody of obese children"

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