A media firestorm sparks a raging debate.
Children are put into foster care for variety of reasons–parental neglect, physical and sexual abuse, abandonment, incarceration, and parent death often necessitate removing children from their home. But should an obese child
be placed into foster care because his or her parents can't control their kid’s weight? Though it may seem incomprehensible, that’s exactly what some experts believe.
When a Harvard professor suggested in an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association
that foster care may be the solution in some cases, a media firestorm erupted. The result has been a raging debate on when government intervention goes too far, as well as a lot of finger-pointing directed at parents of obese children.
Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Harvard–affiliated Children's Hospital Boston, believes putting children in temporary foster care is more ethical than obesity surgery. He goes on to say that the point is to always act in children's best interest and get them help their parents can't or don't provide–not to place blame on the parents.
Parents felt a different point, though, and have understandably been quite vocal in their opinions.
In his response to the frightened and angry parents who read about his views, Ludwig says, “It is absolutely understandable that if someone with an obese child heard the government could swoop in and take that child away, they would be frightened and outraged. I want to emphasize that foster care should only be the last resort when all other options have failed. It's just been heartbreaking to see how this story has been wildly exaggerated by some in the media, causing a great deal of pain and suffering for people.”
While the article was written with the intention of sparking a much needed dialogue on childhood obesity, Ludwig achieved that and then some. Yes, the article got people talking but probably not in the ways envisioned. In addition to the outraged parents, Dr. Arthur Kaplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics, says, “Forcing heavy children out of their homes is not the solution. I am not letting parents off the hook, but putting the blame for childhood obesity on the home and then arguing that moving kids out of homes for obesity is the answer is shortsighted and doomed to fail.”All guilty parties should give an accounting.
Obese children are also victims of things a parent can't control - such as advertising, marketing, bullying, and peer pressure. Kaplan said, “If you're going to change a child's weight, you're going to have to change all of them.”
Approximately 2 million American children are extremely obese
. Though most are not in immediate danger, for some, obesity related conditions such as breathing difficulties, liver problems, and type-2 diabetes could mean death by the age of 30. According to Ludwig, these are the kids who need state intervention. This government intervention would include education, parent training, and in the most extreme cases temporary protective custody.
Severely obese teens are often candidates for weight loss surgery
and many doctors promote the idea. However the long-term effects of such a surgery in adolescents hasn't been studied, and there is always the risk of serious and possibly life-threatening complications.
Anytime your dealing with a child whose whole world is their parents, you have to have a very good reason for turning that world upside down. No one can argue that the majority of parents with obese kids are facing challenges of their own. Jerry Gray, a Greenville, South Carolina single mother lost custody of her 555 pound 14-year-old son two years ago. “I was always working two jobs so we wouldn't end up living in ghettos.” Because she didn't have time to cook she would buy her son fast food. When she asked for help she was accused of neglect.
We all know healthy food often costs more, and once a child reaches their teenage years trying to monitor and control what they put into their mouth is difficult for all parents. However, the reality is the buck does stop with mom and dad. But to many, taking children away from their parents seems simply too extreme.