Heavy health decisions

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association argued that in extreme cases, children who are morbidly obese and face life-threatening health risks should be removed from parental custody.

Obesity expert Dr. David Ludwig authored the July report which was met with widespread criticism.

Despite the public outcry against his recommendation, Ludwig’s prescription is in the best interest of certain children. This policy is aimed at children in the 99th weight percentile of their age bracket whose obesity is extremely severe. Examples of cases in the report included a 12-year-old who weighed 400 pounds and a three-year-old who weighed almost 100 pounds.

Health risks from obesity include apnea, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Placing affected children in a new environment, often foster care, is necessary to address the health issues they face.

While placing children in foster care is far from ideal, it’s preferable to keeping them in homes which enabled their morbid obesity. Parents shouldn’t be demonized for having morbidly obese children—after all, societal, cultural and individual factors contribute to the issue—but providing treatment can only serve to improve a child’s quality of life.

Whatever the reason, if parents enable their child’s unhealthy behaviour, the state has a duty to place the child in a safer situation. Most important though is the process of working with the family, so that the child can return to a healthy family environment.

Parents and children in this specific situation need to be educated by nutritionists and tended to by psychologists. Simply removing a child from home doesn’t heal the root causes of overeating. Giving them treatment will allow for a chance at a healthy life—physically, mentally and socially.

Also, removing a child from parental custody due to an extreme case of obesity shouldn’t be treated as a punitive measure. In instances of mental illness for example, there’s no place for blame in this issue. The primary concern is remedying an unhealthy situation.

When children are so severely malnourished and underweight that they’re at risk, they’re taken in and protected by Children’s Aid. Living in a state of morbid obesity is a different side of the same coin and the most essential concern should be for the child’s health. When an obese child is facing life-threatening illness, they need to be saved.

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