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Doctor says parents should lose custody of obese children

A medical journal opinion piece has sparked a controversy in both the medical and the family law communities. The authors, a doctor and a lawyer, argue that an obese child should be put into foster care; clearly, they say, the parents are not acting in the best interest of the child.

In Illinois, physicians and other medical personnel are among the people required to report child abuse or neglect to the Department of Children and Family Services. The state's definition of a neglected child includes language regarding proper and necessary nourishment as well as support necessary for the child's well-being, including adequate food. (The definition is by no means limited to these terms.)

The physician author, an obesity specialist, explained that his foster care argument sprang from one of his cases. He was treating a 90-pound girl, age 3, whose parents could not control her weight -- they were poor, and both were physically disabled. By age 12, the girl weighed 400 pounds and had a host of weight-related conditions: diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and sleep apnea.

The state intervened, putting the girl in foster care. She was put on a reasonable diet, and she took up moderate exercise. A year later, her weight had dropped by 130 pounds; her diabetes and apnea were gone.

He sees the foster care option as safer and more ethical than obesity surgery. There are doctors who say severely obese teens can be well-served by weight-loss surgery, but the author believes the risks may be too great. There isn't enough data, he says, about long-term safety and effectiveness of these surgeries on younger patients.

The question, then, is why removing the child from the parents is a better option than a whole-family intervention.

We'll discuss that in our next post.

Source: New York Times, "Should Parents Lose Custody of Super Obese Kids?," 07/12/2011

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