Should super obese children be taken from their families?

I remember a few years ago watching the news about not-so-little Jessica, the 420 pound 7 year old who topped the scales as the fattest child in the world. Everyone, especially parents watched in horror as this little girl rolled around the floor to get from place to place and immediately began posting comments about it, mainly attacking Jessica’s mother. An overwhelming number of people cried out child abuse and demanded she be taken away from her parents before she literally ate herself to death. This was three years ago; however, recently in six states they are discussing creating laws that would give the state the right to take morbidly obese children away from their families and put into foster homes.

Here is where we should carefully consider the pros and cons. Right-winged conservatives are usually the first to cry out when there’s too much government involved in public affairs; however, they are also the first group of people that cry out that the government isn’t doing enough. When you look at it through a pair of clean glasses, both the extreme right and left want government meddling in our families. Now here is the question you should be asking yourselves: should the government have the right to take a child away if that child’s life and well-being are clearly in danger?

Absolutely! At least that’s what any sane person would stand up and shout. I know I stand the chance of throwing out the dreaded slippery slope here, but where do we draw the line?

Let’s take a look at the obesity epidemic:

Obesity has been on the top of the list of problems in America. One of the major concerns isn’t the well-being of the people in the US, it’s the cost of treating obesity related illnesses. In today’s 14 trillion dollar deficit, dollar signs have much more resonance in congress than coffins. This might outrage you, but you have to remember that America’s bottom line is all of our bottom lines.

Where the obesity problem lies may surprise you, or not depending on how observant you are. It’s not the wealthy who can afford enough food surplus to feed a small African country, no. The fattest people in the world are usually the poorest. But how could this be? According to the World Health Organization on childhood obesity (WHO),

“The problem [of childhood obesity] is global and is steadily affecting many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings.… Globally, in 2010 the number of overweight children under the age of five, is estimated to be over 42 million. Close to 35 million of these are living in developing countries. Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and more likely to develop noncommunicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age.”

I’m sure all of you have gone to the grocery store at least once in your lives, and I’m sure you’ve noticed how expensive food is. The cheapest foods are usually the most unhealthy, but you can buy them in bulk! Frozen, prepackaged meals, canned meats, potato chips, cookies, sodas and sugary drinks, quick boxed meals, canned entrees are all much cheaper and more convenient than fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts, lean white meats, plain Greek yogurt, 100% fruit juices, and whole grains to name a few. Try shopping healthy one week using the same grocery budget, and you’ll find your shopping cart is much emptier than usual.

At what point should the government step in here? How do you regulate what people eat in a country where we are free to choose what to eat and when to eat it? If the price of processed foods and whole foods were reversed, would that deter people from buying unhealthy things? There are so many factors, one being that processed foods are made in such a way that once you start eating them, it’s really hard to stop. Portion sizes go unheeded, and saturated/trans fat and calorie consumption goes through the roof. Just one 12 ounce can of soda contains an equivalent 9 teaspoons of added sugar, 4 more teaspoons than is recommended for an 1800 calorie diet and 1 more that is recommended for a 2000 calorie diet per day.

Children are at the highest obesity risk now than they ever were with more marketing and advertisements targeting their age group. Couple this with video games, computers, and television which contributes more to a sedentary lifestyle. There is an incentive to eat more of the wrong stuff and no real need to stay active.

All what I just typed should be common knowledge by now, but there are still millions of people in the US alone that have no idea what really causes them to get fat. I know, insane! Jessica’s mother, when interviewed, admitted she had no idea her daughter’s weight would be so detrimental to her health. Something that seems like common sense to us may be completely foreign to these people.

Should that mother have her child taken away from her? Well, there are varying opinions here. I do not think the government has a right to take an obese child away from his or her parents. Many parents reward their children with food, or might stop off at McDonald’s after school every day not really thinking how what they are feeding their children will affect their physical well-being.

HOWEVER! I do believe it would be irresponsible of the state to allow a child that is obviously suffering to continue living that lifestyle without intervention. I believe overfeeding your children to the point of morbid obesity IS child abuse. Given the risks of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, sleep apnea, hypertension, etc… it’s no different than starving your children or beating them unconscious. You are deliberately causing your child harm, albeit indirectly.

Taking children away from their families only causes more harm than good. You’re now trying to help the child physically by scarring him or her emotionally. They may be in really loving families, and they just don’t know any better. The state should see to it that the children AND parents are taught good nutrition. In extreme cases of obesity, like in Jessica’s, they were absolutely right in their decision to put the little girl in a weight loss camp while sending the mother to parenting courses. The girl has since then lost about 300 pounds, and the mother (who could use some nutrition advice herself), is now feeding her child healthy foods after nearly losing her little girl (not to the state, she nearly died).

How should the government go about dealing with parents who’s children are super obese? Where do we draw the line on obesity? Is it considered abuse to have an overweight child? To what extent should the state get involved that would best benefit the children? Whether you are right or left, you cannot deny that leaving these parents to their own devices could mean an early death for their children. On the other hand, too much state involvement could lead to the government instructing each parent how to raise their children according to state guidelines.

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