Should parents lose custody of their obese children?

One way of managing the US’s childhood obesity crisis could be to remove the most severely overweight kids from their parents, argues a Harvard obesity expert and pediatrics professor in a controversial commentary published on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. His recommendation to consign extremely obese children facing life-threatening complications to foster care is jarring, but it has happened a few times. As a temporary solution it might help prevent serious health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, liver problems and sleep apnea in some of the 2 million or so highly obese children in the US, David Ludwig says.

“State intervention may serve the best interests of many children with life-threatening obesity, comprising the only realistic way to control harmful behaviors,” Ludwig and attorney Lindsey Murtagh, a Harvard public-health researcher. Since situations involving the undernourishment of children have often been defined as child abuse, why not over-nourishment?

Bioethicist Art Caplan, of the University of Pennsylvania, rejects the idea. “Our laws give enormous authority to parents and rightly so,” he writes in a commentary for MSNBC. “The only basis for compelling medical treatment against a parent's wishes are [sic] if a child is at imminent risk of death — meaning days or hours — and a proven cure exists for what threatens to kill them. Obesity does not pass these requirements.” ~ TIME, Jul 13


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