Is Childhood Obesity Child Abuse?
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photo by Rayphua

In the July 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at the Children’s Hospital in Boston, wrote a piece that discussed the problem of “parenting deficiencies” and their affect on childhood obesity. He stated:

in severe cases 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.”

As a formerly obese child, I was somewhat stunned by those words.  For someone to suggest that my weight problem, which may not have been as severe as those discussed by Dr. Ludwig, was somehow on the same level as my mother letting me play with matches or beating me was hard for me to fathom.

It’s like saying that my mother maliciously stuffed me with food and wouldn’t let me play outside in hopes of me obtaining the World Record status: Fattest Child Under 10.

Of course that wasn’t the case. She was doing the best she could do with what she had while dealing with her own weight issues. Many of these children are in situations similar to the one I grew up in. The family unit is suffering due to any number of economic and health factors. There is no reason to make them suffer more by breaking them apart.

Parents are part of the puzzle but they aren’t the only ones involved.

Parents certainly play a big part in what a child eats and how much activity they get. However, they are not the only ones responsible. Most children spend a good portion of their day at schools and day cares, often eating 2 of their 3 meals there.  Schools are feeding children substandard food and taking away time for play and physical education. Food companies and marketers continue to stuff more sugar and chemicals into foods and aim them at children with no regard to the consequences. The CDC also says 1 in 7 low income children are obese. Public assistance doesn’t provide adequate funding for food and makes no differentiation in food quality (with the exception of WIC). Poor neighborhoods are devoid of fresh fruits and vegetables. Putting a child in foster care may address what happens at home but not the ills of our obesogenic society.

Food and exercise now become punishment.

Anyone with kids knows that when creating healthy habits for them you have to make them fun and interesting.  Placing a child in foster care to change their eating and exercise habits now links those new habits with separation and emotional pain.  If nothing is changed in the household and the child is returned (which is often the goal of foster care) there is now an even greater emotional attachment to the habits they knew before. Food now equals love times 10.  Educating the entire family and creating healthier habits together creates an opportunity to strengthen the family instead of tearing it apart.

I understand that sometimes drastic times call for drastic measures. And taking a child from a family is never an easy situation, even when the child is imminent danger. While obesity is a dangerous condition it is one that is fixable without sacrificing the bonds of parent and child.

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