In an astonishing article by the Associated Press, Should Parents Lose Custody Of Super-Obese Kids?, I read today about incidences of obese children being removed from their parents’ home for being obese. According to this article, Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Harvard-affiliated Children’s Hospital Boston, opines that sometimes it’s in a child’s best interest to remove them from their parents because they are obese. Anecdotal evidence supports the claim that social workers across the country may choose to remove obese children from their parents’ homes before submitting children to bypass surgery. These experts opine that removal is the more “ethical” choice.

Because these are the only two choices?!

The idea that it would be in the best interest of a child to be removed from the family home due to obesity, alone, is outrageous. It is extreme, paternalistic, judgmental, cruel, and fails to take into account the realities of the modern society and its effects on today’s families. Studies show that hunger, as well as obesity, are strongly correlated to poverty. For more information about hunger, read Poverty and obesity: the role of energy density and energy costs
and 2011 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics

The idea that obesity is a form of child abuse or neglect is fundamentally mistaken, I think it’s fair to say, in the majority of scenarios. This sort of judgment fails to take into account socioeconomic issues affecting families in this country. It is a dangerous child welfare system or worker who confuses poverty for neglect and then, in lieu of offering assistance, removes children and puts them with more financially secure families. It’s a type of social engineering that courts must refuse to do and that our system must prohibit. Happy, healthy children come in all shapes and sizes, as do their parents. What is next? Requiring families to buy only organic produce or whole wheat bread? If the state wants to require parents do so, it better dig deep in its pockets to pay for it- before ever considering removing a child.

It is a cynical and culturally insensitive system that imposes a social worker’s, or any other highly educated, middle-class professional’s, personal values on families and calls anything else child abuse or neglect. We know more and more about obesity as time goes on to know that parents are not lone contributors. Aside from poverty, we know that genetics explains obesity. So do a number of medical conditions.

But what about other social influences? School-provided meals are shamefully failing to keep kids healthy and provide the least expensive bulk-fillers they get donated. For information about school lunches, read
Underfunded School Lunch Programs Create Unhealthy Kids

We know that large-scale food merchants fights to keep their unhealthy products in schools so children can easily access them. It’s no coincidence that sugar-coated children’s cereals feature cartoon advertising. So its fair, again, to say that parents do not raise children in a vacuum. Children grow up in a culture that is bombarded by products to consume, many of which are not healthy.

Our system fails when it cannot distinguish the sociological reasons for obesity or the medical causes for obesity from abuse or neglect. The last place that children should be is away from their families unless they are in imminent risk of harm. If CPS social workers and juvenile court professionals care at all about kids and families, they must do everything in their power to help keep families healthy BEFORE considering ever removing a child from that home. We fail families as a society when we demand anything less of our government actors.