Stories about: childhood obesity epidemic

Should the state intervene on behalf of morbidly obese children?

When we think of child abuse and neglect, we think of burns and bruises and children left unattended. We don’t think of obesity. But maybe, in some cases, we should.

In a recent commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), David Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of the Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program at Children’s Hospital Boston, argues that life-threatening obesity—where a child’s body mass index (BMI) is beyond the 99 percentile and multiple attempts to help the child lose weight have failed—could call for state intervention, and in extreme cases foster care.

Children in this highest BMI category are at great risk for many serious health complications. We all know that childhood obesity can lead to life-long health complications, but in extreme cases it can be life-threatening in the short term. For example, type 2 diabetes, which is being seen in younger and younger patients as the childhood obesity epidemic continues, can cause very serious complications and even be fatal. Sleep apnea, which often occurs in obese children, can lead to very dangerous heart problems.

Because of these dangers Ludwig says the most severe instances of childhood obesity may justify a child’s removal from the home because of imminent health risks to the child and the parents’ continued failure to address those problems.

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