Would You Like a Side of Fries With That Child Abuse?

Obese kids taken away from parents

A third-grader in Cleveland has been removed from his parents and placed into the foster-care system because the child weighs more than 200 pounds. Too heavy for a third-grader, for sure, but does his obesity reflect child abuse, the grounds under which he was removed? Harvard researchers define “inadequate or unskilled” parenting that results in the obesity of a child as grounds for consideration of that child’s removal from the home.

Listen, I’m all for rescuing kids from abusive parents and in no way am I an advocate for childhood obesity, whether it’s the result of poor parenting or not, but I don’t see how you can point a finger at parents alone, even if they are completely guilty of “food abuse.” Removing a child from a home where nutrition is a dirty word would work, I guess, if they all get to go to the Cleveland clinic for the rest of their childhood years. But it’s not just inadequate and unskilled parenting that makes these kids overweight; it’s also a culture of sedentary recreation, video games and television, and a culture that reinforces fast food as a reasonable dietary regimen.

If a kid comes to school with cigarette burns on his arm or broken bones that go unexplained, then clearly a child is in imminent danger and should be removed from the home. Many state governments contend, however, that while an obese child is not in imminent danger, he or she will be in the future, and therefore, should be protected. Really? Why don’t we take all the kids who are smoking and drinking and doing drugs away from their parents? Can’t those things all lead to serious health risks in adulthood? Call me paranoid, but I’m feeling the slope slip underneath my feet when we start allowing the government to tear apart what are most often very love-filled homes with families that are doing their very best, even if you and I see the outcome as tragic.

Seventeen percent of the children in this country are considered obese. The fact that many of these children will have health issues in adulthood is without argument, and finding a solution to childhood obesity is an important undertaking, but wouldn’t it make sense to spend the dollars it takes to remove a child and support her in the foster-care system on family education? I can’t imagine that a few sessions with a nutritional counselor wouldn’t go a long way and be much more cost effective than removing a child from his home.

Look, I’m as mortified as the next person when I see a hugely overweight child slamming down french fries at McDonald’s, especially when the child is accompanied by an overweight parent, but I also often see a great abundance of love there, if not one of knowledge. Can that really be reason for tearing apart a family?