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The Globe and Mail

Should childhood obesity be a factor in custody battles?

Childhood obesity is increasingly making its way in to U.S. courtrooms, where parents are using it as a key issue in custody battles, according to the Wall Street Journal.

One parent will argue that a child's waistline is proof he or she is not receiving responsible care, or that a child's diet stuffed with fast food or unhealthy snacks is similarly proof of a parent failing in his or her duties, according to the newspaper.

"It's come up quite a bit in the last couple of years," Douglas Gardner, a family-law practitioner, told the newspaper. "Typically, one parent is accusing the other of putting a child at risk of developing diabetes or heart disease–or saying that the child is miserable because he's getting made fun of at school."

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Custody decisions are usually made in regards to what is seen to be in the best interest of the child. Increasingly, states are broadening their concept of children's best interest to include their physical well-being, not just their mental or emotional well-being, according to the newspaper.

And in heated custody fights where both sides are looking for any advantage over the other, weight issues can be used to win the battle.

"If one side is scratching to find something wrong with the other person, the courts might not give it the same weight. If all things are equal but one person only feeds fatty foods and the children have weight problems, I think it can become an important distinguishing factor," one lawyer told the newspaper.

Obesity rates in the U.S. have nearly tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of obesity among children and teens currently stands at approximately 17 per cent.

As awareness of the issue has become more prominent, so too have questions regarding parents' responsibilities in raising healthy children.

Earlier this year, as noted by the newspaper, an obesity expert at Children's Hospital Boston co-authored an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association saying that "in severe cases of childhood obesity, removal from the home may be justifiable."

Do you think obesity should be a factor in custody battles?

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