Thursday, July 14, 2011

JAMA Proposes Taking Obese Children from Parents

According to David Ludwig in the Journal of the American Medical Association, states should take obese children from their parents and put the children in foster care.

After all, obesity can increase the risk of many diseases.  Obese children may develop life-threatening conditions later in life.  Therefore, allowing a child to be overweight is a kind of child abuse, and the state must step in to protect the child.

However, it is impossible to single parents out when a child is overweight.  Many factors contribute to a child's weight.  As University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Art Caplan notes, "obese children are victims of advertising, marketing, peer pressure and bullying, things a parent can't control."  Yanking children out of their homes does not address those other factors.

States are already struggling to provide basic services.  Child abuse cases can go on for a year or more, and every case will require bailiffs, clerks, judges, attorneys, and social workers.  Every child will require a state-subsidized foster home, which are already in short supply.  If the state gets its hands on the two million overweight children in America, the entire system will collapse under the added case load.

This proposal is an unprecedented expansion of the state's intrusion into parenting.  Foster care should be a last resort when it is truly necessary to safe a child from imminent harm.  If letting a child gain weight is to be considered child abuse, then there is no end in sight.  Not brushing, not flossing, staying up too late at night?  Here comes the state, which knows better and has to protect your children from you.

States can and should step in when a parent's actions directly endanger a child.  However, states can not and should not interfere with parenting on the tenuous basis that a parent maybe is not doing enough to prevent a condition that may increase the risk of health problems years in the future.  As with most well-intentioned but poorly-thought-out proposals, the consequences are worse than the supposed cure.

North Carolina's statute on child abuse is here:

The Winston-Salem Journal article on David Ludwig's proposal is here:

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