Is Taking Obese Children Away From Parents Really The Answer?

A Cleveland 3rd grader who weighed more than 200 pounds and suffered from a weight-related health matter, was placed in foster care after officials said his mother didn’t do enough to help him lose weight.

“They are trying to make it seem like I am unfit, like I don’t love my child,” the boy’s mother, who was not identified, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Of course I love him. Of course I want him to lose weight. It’s a lifestyle change and they are trying to make it seem like I am not embracing that. It is very hard, but I am trying.”

Officials first became aware of the boy’s weight last year after his mother took him to the hospital because he was having trouble breathing. He was diagnosed with sleep apnea and social workers began monitoring him while he was enrolled in a special program for overweight kids called “Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight.”

While he did lose a few pounds, he recently began to gain weight back, which prompted the Department of Children and Family Services to ask for custody of the boy, citing his soaring weight as a form of medical neglect.

The practice of taking obese children from their families is a topic of intense debate that has made several headlines this year. The topic has been fueled by one high-profile pediatric obesity expert, Dr. David Ludwig. Ludwig, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health, made some controversial remarks advocating the practice of taking obese children into custody in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He said:

“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,”

Dr. David Ludwig says he isn’t outright calling for the state to take away obese children en masse. He describes such actions as something of a “last resort” and clearly talks about the truth that foster care in no way guarantees a better health outcome.

A trial is set next month, on the little boy’s 9th birthday, to determine whether his mother will be able to regain custody.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the past 20 years, obesity has risen dramatically in the United States. There are roughly 2 million obese children in the United States.

With obesity numbers on the rise, and some childhood cases seemingly out-of-control, it appears taking them into custody may be a last resort to get these children the help they need.

But is it really the answer? Taking a child away from their loving parents and out of the comfort of their home could have some pretty adverse effects. No doubt, placing a child into foster care would frighten them. They could easily become insecure and depressed, lose any self-esteem they might have left or worse: they could even come to rely further on food for comfort.

While state intervention is no guarantee of a good outcome, should we be taking children away from their parents?

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