A piece of commentary published in The Journal of The American Medical Association has posed interesting questions regarding children’s welfare, the part that parents play in contributing to childhood obesity and the moral obligations of government. The authors of the article put forth that morbid obesity is and should be considered a type of neglect. As such, in extreme situations, removing a morbidly obese child from their parents and placing them in a healthful environment is warranted.
Some dissent is to be expected. But irresponsible parenting should be punished for the child’s well-being, right? Most states have adopted laws that protect kids from harm by removing them from unhealthy environments. For example, criminals and drug addicts have been known to lose custody of their kids. What’s the difference in the case of morbidly obese children? Let’s also emphasize that Dr. Ludwig is only advocating removal in those extreme cases where the child’s weight has put his or her life in danger and every other option has been explored.
Many factors contribute to childhood obesity including but not limited to lack of physical activity, overeating, eating an unbalanced diet, and the list goes on and on. And early childhood obesity can also lead to a number of detrimental issues, physical, mental and emotional. So yes, the state is responsible for protecting kids at all costs. So in extreme cases where the obesity can be attributed to the eating and exercise habits of a family, and the state is able to intervene, government should absolutely exhaust available resources to help children. This includes educating the family and giving them every chance to turn things around before attempting to remove a child from their family.
One of the reasons this doesn’t sit well with me is that it starts us on a slippery slope. Where is the line drawn when a child can be removed from their parents’ care on basis of harmful negligence? Do we also remove kids with respiratory diseases from the homes of parents who smoke or don’t clean regularly? How do you police these cases? Does this constitute an invasion of privacy? How do you implement plans such as these without overrunning an already overburdened child welfare system? Is it more or less harmful to remove a child from an unhealthy situation?
Something has to be done and when the wellbeing of children is at hand, there should be no hesitation to take extreme measures but we must be careful to draw careful distinctions and assess each case with meticulous caution.