Two million children in the United States are considered to be severely obese. Their weights put them at risk to Type 2 diabetes, liver problems and breathing problems that could shorten their lives. Two doctors recently argued in an editorial that parents of extremely obese children should lose child custody so that their children can receive the help they are not receiving at home. Texas and a few other states already have the legal framework to do so.
In their editorial, the two doctors argued that intervention by the state to place a child in temporary foster care is preferential to the risks of weight loss surgery in cases of extreme childhood obesity. In addition, the doctors asserted that intervention would be meant to benefit the whole family by temporarily removing the child and educating the parents.
Child abuse laws address circumstances where children are starved or neglected and health care providers are required to report children who are at immediate risk for those conditions. The doctors argue that intervention in cases of extreme obesity is not far removed from legal requirements dealing with neglect.
The doctors thought about the issue of intervention when one of them treated a 12-year-old girl who weighed 400 pounds. The young girl had developed cholesterol problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and sleep apnea. At age 3 she was 90 pounds. The girl’s parents were disabled, had few financial resources and were not able to control her weight. The state placed the girl with a foster family where she received three balanced meals a day and exercise.
One year after she was placed in foster care she lost 130 pounds. The girl no longer suffers from diabetes or apnea, but she is still obese. She is still with the foster family.
Source: The Associated Press, “Should Parents Lose Custody of Super Obese Kids,” 7/12/11