Big Brother for big kids?

By ACSH Staff — Nov 28, 2011
Does a severely obese child qualify as a case of parental abuse and neglect?

Does a severely obese child qualify as a case of parental abuse and neglect? County caseworkers in Ohio say yes.

Last July, we discussed a commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association that recommended classifying child obesity as abuse and neglect on the part of the parents, providing grounds for state intervention, including such extreme measures as removing the child from the home. Now, in what appears to be the first instance of this philosophy in action, an eight-year-old Cleveland Heights boy has been placed in foster care because his mother allegedly failed to help him reduce his weight of over 200 pounds. The county caseworkers classified it as medical neglect.

Where do you draw the line when it comes to government intervention in a family s care of a child? ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan asks. She observes that there are arguments to be made for both sides of the issue especially when it comes to something like childhood obesity, where it s not necessarily clear how much a parent can control a child s weight. In the Ohio instance, case workers say that they d worked with the mother for over a year without success before making the decision to ask Juvenile Court for custody of the child. According to the Department of Children and Family Services, the child s obesity was caused by his environment one that his mother either couldn t, or wouldn t, alter. However, the mother strongly disagreed with the ruling; the child was doing well in school and had his other medical needs attended to.

Both genetics and environment play a role in obesity, so it s hard to tell how much the mother in this case really is at fault, says ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom. It raises a lot of questions, though, about just what should constitute medical neglect. He adds, Where does this stop? If your ten-year old is smoking, drinking, or using drugs, does that qualify? How about unvaccinated kids? This is a dangerous place to go.