Obesity and the custody conundrum

fatkidThere is a story the media find irresistible, revisiting it on a regular basis: The government takes over custody of a morbidly obese child, accusing the parents of neglect and endangerment.

These stories continue to shock us, touching upon a wide range of hot button issues including extremes in physical appearance, parental responsibility, government intrusion into private lives, and the health of this generation of children. Unfortunately, these sensational cases tell us very little about the obesity epidemic and the needs of kids today.

Clearly, parents bear much responsibility for the well being of their children. Research has clearly linked child neglect and abuse with increased risk of obesity. One hundred years ago, a neglected child was likely to be underweight. Today–with junk food everywhere and opportunities for physical activity increasingly difficult to find–obesity has become the final common pathway for many emotional and psychological problems in childhood.

Of course, it’s the government’s responsibility to assume custody if a child is at imminent risk of harm, and in rare situations this may apply to extreme obesity. However, body weight is affected by complex and interacting influences. Occasionally, genetic abnormalities or medical problems can cause massive weight gain from early in life despite a parent’s best efforts, especially if the condition is undiagnosed. More commonly, practices condoned if not promoted by government actively undermine parental ability to protect their children’s health.

Disturbingly, the government has failed to:

  • Regulate junk food marketing to young children, practices that have been decried by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association
  • Adequately support school nutrition programs
  • Fully fund regular physical education classes during school and safe after-school recreation opportunities
  • Mandate full insurance reimbursement for obesity prevention and treatment services, such as those offered in One Step Ahead and the Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program

With more attention to these areas that affect the well being of every child every day, we will see many fewer heartbreaking stories about custody.

4 thoughts on “Obesity and the custody conundrum

  1. Thank you for this article. I am planning on sharing this with others! As a mother, I am always fighting the junk food battle with my kids. It would be helpful if I wasn’t fighting colorful cartoon characters on the commercials and food boxes too!

  2. *comments taken from Children’s Facebook fan page*

    Chandra Edwards
    If this was the case, my parents would have lost custody of me when I was 10. I was always an obese child and then teen and later an adult, but I don’t blame my parents for this — it was partially genetic, but it had more to do with the fact that the bigger I became, the less physically able I became and the vicious cycle led me to my greatest weight of 380 lbs. I think unless you’ve been obese, you don’t understand how people become this way — and believe me when I say NO ONE wants to be. I think overweight parents — with problems controlling their own weight — need better tools, not the loss of their children to improve their and their children’s lives. Whatever happened to teaching parents how to become better parents?

    Jezsaira Jurado Ortiz
    Nooooo!!I think the goverment should worry about kids who arent geting fed by their parents,kids who are beign abused phsysically and social services ignores the cases because they dont have enough evidence???,and anyways wats obese now and days Im a pound over by weight thats “normal”for my height and yet the doctor says Im obese! Are u serious… Read More???..I think the goverment should worry about other things thats more important!! Why not get the parent and child help insted of just taking them away and making the kid suffer emotionally and mentally!

    Rich Figueiredo
    The state/government can’t even help protect the children out there being hurt and abused. How could someone even consider diverting some of those resources for obese children?
    Mind boggling…

    Lauren Olena
    How about making the people who are actually responsible for this repulsive mess possible…yes, once again I’m speaking of our wonderful, trusting FDA!

    Katja Buckley
    It’s about education, education and more education. I agree with Chandra…..I also think it would help if we didn’t have to supersize everything…..

    Jenna Harriman
    I think that is an awful question to ask! Obesity is not a crime, and it’s not child abuse. This is ridiculous!

    Shelley Reeder
    It can be a form of neglect depending on the situation!

    Clayah Marie Lynch
    I have 3 children….they all eat the same…they’re all very active….and 2 of them are overweight…they love food…as much as me….but I restrict their eating….but i would not deny my child a cookie or an ice cream cone even if they are overweight….i think that’s the crime right there…

    Michelle Pouliot Balbat
    Perfect. Let’s just add more responsibility to already drained DSS and social health systems. Genetics aside–I think we can ALL agree that genetics is not at the root of obesity for the majority our nation (try McDonalds)–how about we start taking more responsibility for our choices–the foods we eat, the activity we get?

    Cyndi Dawkins Casey
    and if the parent is overweight, are we going to also take them away from their kids……can you imagine? it is just awful either way!

    Amanda Vasquez
    I think the diet of obese children should be monitored and Dr’s should work with the parents to bring the childrens instead of bringing social services into the mix and adding further stress to the family.

    Jennifer Brennan
    Some families can’t afford to choose the most healy options at the grocery stores!! The kids who should be taken from their families for varies reasons and would be better off are not! It’s not always the parents fault!!

    Jill Merna
    The term used in the above question: MORBID Obesity. There are big differences between the health of a Morbidly obese child, an obese child and an overweight child. If a child gets to the extreme point of being morbidly obese, every body system has already been compromised to some
    degree. There is something going on with the parents of such a child that signals they need help. Obesity is a preventable cause of death. If a competent parent is educated on how serious an issue this is, they will work towards reducing their child’s weight. If they fail to understand the significance of this problem and/or do nothing to reduce the level of risk for the endless list of severe and ultimate dysfunction that comes along with morbid obesity, they are essentially standing idly by while their child’s incidence of suffering and pain increases. In other words, they are denying their child the opportunity to a healthy, disease free life. I don’t think these parents should no be allowed the responsibly to look after their child until they acquire the necessary skills.

    Say a parent left a young child at the corner of a busy, dangerous street for hours, day after day. Cars wiz by and stranger pass by by the minute. After considering the risks for injury, every caring person would want to talk to the parents about the child’s safety. Say people get involved in this way, but child remains on the street corner, day after day. She eventually experiences multiple negative occurrences because her risk factors are so high as she’s always out there. Still the parents do nothing. Wouldn’t you want someone to intervene and protect that child at some point? I would consider this neglect.
    … Read More
    If a child is morbidly obese, they are already having health problems. The parents have already stood by for a long time and done nothing. It’s gone on long enough, they need to take their kid of the corner.

    As for the specialized cases where genetics are the main cause of obesity, that’s another issue.

    I don’t think anyone would want the mother of a overweight child who occasionally allows their child to over indulge in ice cream to lose custody, but if that overindulgence goes unchecked for so long that the child has joint pain, cardiovascular and respiratory symptoms, then there’s a big problem.

    Agreed, social services do not need any more work thrown their way. How about regulating some of the processed junk food that makes its way into our kids? I’m glad to see at least some school lunches getting healthier.

    As an American woman, I have my own issues with weight and appearance. I find it challenging to feel comfortable in my own skin while balancing what I want to eat, how I spend my time and the way I look in a bathing suit. But there’s an added factor to throw into this unfortunate mess we all face everyday, and that’s our physical health. I believe health should always be the priority.

  3. Thank you so much for this article. I agree with the writer’s comments that it is not just the parents who should carry blame, but the Government who needs to support insurance initiatives for treatment, healthier school lunches, sport’s programs, gym programs rather than cutting gym and sports from schools. All too often their are bias against people with obesity issues even by the doctors who treat them. The stigma of obesity must be addressed and education for the parents, children and schools can assist in treating this very serious issue. Obesity is rising in this nation at an alarming rate. I used this article in my college class since we are studying this topic right now. My father-in law has battled morbid obesity most of his adult life. Blaming him will not help the problem go away. The owl program sounds amazing.
    Thank you for this enlightening article.

  4. Now a days State is taking care the obesity children. But why? I think parents should be more careful at the beginning of each children. Obesity is not a natural phenomena. We create it, it is the result for our negligence to our future generations. From now I request all parents must take care their children health at the beginning of their life. Result bring a good future for our next generation.

    Kids Weight Loss – The Solution For Your Childs Weight Problem

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