Custody of Obese Children

While majority of the citizens and the general public knows something about obesity it is not until recently that a series of events sparked by alarming data released by medical institutions that a great deal of attention has been given to this not so widely spoken of topic. On general terms obesity is described as the unusual concentration of body fat around the body predisposing an individual to dangerous diseases. The issue of obesity is critical to everyone who is part of our society, with 17% of all Americans being obese then chances that someone close to us is in this bracket or will soon slip into it are definitely high. Contained in this paper is a detailed discussion on why this topic is so significant to us, its controversial nature in light of a recent proposal that parents with obese children should lose custody rights and more so the ideas driving each side of the debate, what can be changed in them and its overall effects on the society (Rice).

It should be noted there are different types of obesity classified in order of severity or degree. However, the classification that has received wide acceptance is the World Heath Organizations categorization. The WHO has three grades ranging from grade 1 to grade three based on Basal Metabolic Rate (BMI) scale. Grade 1 obese cases are the least severe, categorized as ranging from 25 to 29.9 kilograms per meter squared of BMI, Grade 2 range between30 to 39.9 kilograms per meter squared of BMI, while the most severe case normally referred to as morbid obesity has the individual having a BMI equal to or exceeding 40 kilograms per meter squared. It is important to note that morbid obesity is indeed a serious health concern that can cause serious health issues including but not limited to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, sleep aphnea and osteoarthritis. However, the above named classification takes into consideration a number of factors such as sex, height and age to determine obesity (Rice).

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The controversy surrounding the issue was sparked by comments given by Boston’s Hospital doctor David Ludwig and his Harvard School of Public Health counterpart Dr. Lindsey Murtagh. The two stated, “State intervention may serve the best interests of many children with life-threatening obesity, comprising the only realistic way to control harmful behaviors” (Harris, p2). In their view, a child’s removal from home can be legally justified in the light of continued parental failure and severity of the health risk. The comments attracted criticism from families, interested parties and the overall public. Ludwig had given his thoughts and proposal on the American Medical Association journal, but owing to the heated public debate the journal was quick to distance itself from the view terming them as not representative of their opinion. Since then the raging debate has been based on various consideration with each side defending its argument with zeal (Harris).

On one side lies an ethical question on whether anything can justify the separation of children from the parent. The opponents contend that obesity is not in many cases a situation of parental neglect but one that has got to do with the genetic makeup, which is beyond the scope of any foster home. Additionally, legal experts argue that the state law has given parents massive rights over their children on justifiable grounds, and more so only instances of imminent death warrant violation of such right by the government in which case obesity does not merit (Ranchman).

On the other side Ludwig, Lindsey and other proponents argue that with an estimated 2 million children qualifying as obese drastic measures ought to be taken. To them it is not an exemption they are seeking or an inclusion of a new clause of law, instead they are of the view that the same law that has addressed other aspect of child neglect by parents such as starvation should do likewise and treat this as a case of neglect requiring equal or better redress (Merco Press).

While from a glance, this matter may seem akin to other heated policy matters that dominate the news for a short period and get hyped by the media to create catchy headlines, its implications, gravity and extent to which it is engraved in the core fabric of a society remains true in every aspect. Cases of families who were torn apart on matters of state intervention abound. A shocker incident that reminds us to take a sober approach is that of Regino Anamarie, taken from her parents at only 3 years weighing 90 pounds. The agony caused to the family and the mental torture cannot be repaired yet all amounted to nothing since she was returned weighing the same (Harris).

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Sankaran, a law professor and director at Detroit Center for Family Advocacy says, “The traumatic effect of separating a child from the parents is detrimental” (Rice 1) she says that the quick fix concept is not fit. It can be concluded that on a social scale this debate will give the people, professionals and policy makers a chance to add value to a society, rob it off its core treasures such as child parent relationship assurance or better still reshape its thinking entirely. Anyone who is not obese can still bear an obese child, therefore this is not a problem limited to today or yesterday. Our society should debate with the consciousness of how personal this is to everyone (Rice).

While Ludwig’s argument, that focus on malnourishment has been given attention at the expense of over nourishment, blaming obesity on parents as entirely being caused by neglect is imprudent. Rather the society needs to become conscious of the culture of food it has adopted. It has to change from a lifestyle point of view in all aspects; be they entertainment or educational. The education system needs to change too, let the school curriculum teach and inculcate a culture of exercising. It is recorded in various studies that over 90% of American children miss out on daily physical education. Another front is the media, key tool that moves the masses, and here care of what is advertised, what is aired and given time as cool should be interrogated.

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On a policy level, if the government has done well to reduce alcoholisms, smoking and abuse of drugs through taxing such commodities let it be equally vigilant in taxing heavily sugary items of low nutritional value. This will discourage their production and consequently their consumption (Rochman).

As indicated in the changes recommended above, a good solution is one that does not only accept the reality and enormity of this challenge but accepts that it way beyond a medical or parental concern. This solution must be zealous in seeing to it that new measures are put into place, measures that respect what society holds dear, measures that are not quick fixes but end to end processes requiring every possible commitment.

In conclusion, let the debate on whether parents should or should not loss custody rights of their obese children serve not as a room which someone will end into rather be a corridor that helps identify doors that need to be opened, some that should never have been opened and others that need to be shut with conviction ( Rice).


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