Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Should obese children be removed from their homes?
The most recent post at our friend Dances With Fat deals with a controversial JAMA article that asserts that grossly obese youngsters should be taken away from their parents. Ragen pretty much nailed the main points that I wanted to discuss, and she's kind of an expert on this one, so I'm ceding to her opinion.
One thing I would like to add, however, is my never-ending argument that obesity is sometimes a symptom of a more serious illness; individual with certain mental disabilities, for example, overeat because of malfunctions with their brain structure. Similarly, hormone conditions, endocrine disorders, brain tumors, and other conditions all pose as simply "eat less, exercise more," and they are commonly dismissed (in my opinion) by the medical establishment.
It's easy for us to put the onus of this problem on the parents of obese children instead of accepting that, as a society, we may all be the ones to blame. In fact, children's food choices are not totally dependent upon their parents, and studies have shown that more parental control over children's diet = higher likelihood of obesity. Here is an interesting study that discusses the complex nature of children's food intake and their relationships with their parents.
Ultimately, the question here is whether the community or the individual family unit is more responsible for children's welfare. Although it takes a village to raise a child, I wonder how much intervention our children should face from the government. Also, the costs associated with such an effort would be immense, and I find it hard to believe that health savings would outweigh the bureaucratic losses and legal implications involved with this action.
I see this study as a radical ploy to open discussion about this topic, instead of a realistic proposition for intervention. In that context, it is a useful, if culturally irrelevant, piece. Americans don't want the government in their refrigerator, and they frankly shouldn't.
In other words, just all public health problems, there is no easy fix for this quandary. Taking kids away from their parents for being fat is just an overly reactionary strategy with little basis in public health theory ... it's not an appropriate intervention. Behavior change is not fast or simple, and sometimes we need to allow our social programs time to work before we release such incindiary information into the public sphere.