Skip to main content

If you can't control your children's weight, should the government step in and take custody of them?

An opinion piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests maybe so. According to the Associated Press, the commentary says temporarily putting children into foster care may be in their best interests, in extreme cases.

The authors, obesity specialist Dr. David Ludwig of Children's Hospital Boston, and Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard's School of Public Health, told the Associated Press parents shouldn't be blamed. Rather, government intervention should be aimed at supporting the whole family and possibly involve parental instruction.

"Despite the discomfort posed by state intervention, it may sometimes be necessary to protect a child," Ms. Murtagh said.

Unsurprisingly, the opinion piece has provoked strong responses.

"Breaking up a family over weight is unfair and causes more harm than good," one commenter wrote on the Yahoo! News site.

"Taking the kids away really does nothing to help their health," wrote another.

Childhood obesity, nonetheless, has become an alarming problem. Although most of the two million extremely obese children in the U.S. do not have life-threatening conditions, Dr. Ludwig told the AP some are in danger of dying by the age of 30 due to obesity-related health issues.

In one case, he said, a young girl who attended his clinic developed diabetes, cholesterol problems, high blood pressure and sleep apnea by the age of 12, and weighed 400 pounds. Her parents, who had little money and physical disabilities, were unable to control her weight.

"Out of medical concern, the state placed this girl in foster care, where she simply received three balanced meals a day and a snack or two and moderate physical activity," he said, noting she lost 130 pounds over a year, and even though she was still obese, she no longer suffered from diabetes and sleep apnea.

He noted that health officials are also legally bound to report children who are severely underweight.

Is there a difference between state interference involving severely underweight versus severely overweight children? Is taking obese children away from parents warranted, or too extreme?