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Extremely Obese Kids: Should They Be Removed from Parents' Homes?

Posted by Elisabeth Wilkins

Should the government take extremely obese kids away from their parents? Dr. David Ludwig, obesity expert at the Children’s Hospital Boston, thinks so. In his editorial in The Journal of American Medicine last week, Dr. Ludwig said that “state intervention may serve the best interest of many children with life-threatening obesity, comprising the only realistic way to control harmful behaviors.”

In the past several years, a number of kids have been removed from their parents’ homes, including 14-year-old, 555 lb. Alexander Drape of South Carolina. His mother, Jerri Gray, was arrested and charged with criminal neglect, in keeping with the fact that many experts consider this treatment of children to be a form of child abuse. (For more on these types of cases in the past few years, both in the States and abroad, click here.)

It’s no news to anyone that we’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic. It’s not uncommon to see 12-year-old kids with the physiques of 50-year-olds, and severely overweight young children unable to participate in sports or even play tag for very long on the playground. At last count, close to 2 million kids in America were considered not only overweight, but obese. Yes, something needs to be done, but I’m not sure removing kids from their parents’ homes is really the answer.

According to Ludwig, “In severe instances of childhood obesity, removal of the child from the home may be justifiable from a legal standpoint because of imminent health risks and the parents’ chronic failure to address medical problems.”

My concern is that many parents of obese children are also obese themselves. What kind of nutritional program would they themselves have to be placed in to change their lifestyles? And who would facilitate this training and foster care of their kids in the interim? It’s also been shown that obesity tends to occur more often in poor families. Many times, buying cheap food means buying fattening food. Junk food is  marketed to kids constantly, and even our public schools’ hot lunch programs typically serve unhealthy food to kids. My point is that this is a nationwide epidemic that affects us on nearly every level, and it seems extreme to target only the parents of obese kids.

In some very extreme cases,  taking kids away from their parents temporarily might be the only solution, but in general, I think we need to change the way we eat and exercise overall as a nation.

What do you think? Should obese kids be removed from their parents’ homes?


About Elisabeth Wilkins

Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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