You probably heard that recently a 200 pound 8 year old boy was removed from his home because he did not successfully lose weight. The identities have not been disclosed because the country considers this a child abuse case.
I wonder if all possibilities for this child were exhausted. How certain are they that it is a lifestyle issue? What proof do they have the foster care is likely to help? If he loses weight in foster care and is returned home and gains his weight back (as 95% of dieters do) will he be pulled again?
Also, it’s worth noting that he was taken away due to “imminent danger” and “Medical neglect” but his only health problem is sleep apnea which is well controlled through a CPAP machine. He is an honor roll student who participates in school activities.
Having read more than 100 articles on the subject it seems that doctors really have no idea what to do. In some articles doctors say that he would need to weight 60 pounds to be considered healthy, in other articles doctors said that his target weight should be 150 pounds. One article quotes the CDC as saying that it’s possible to get to and maintain a healthy weight but the research doesn’t support that.
The lawyer for the boys mother said that in his decades as a public defender, he has seen children left with parents who beat them or who had severe drug problems with the reasonsing that the danger didn’t meet the criteria of being immediate. But this boy was removed from his home based on health issues that he does not actually have, but might get. Does this mean that kids caught smoking will be removed from their homes because they might get cancer? Where do we draw the line? Already, even in the few cases that we have of putting kids into failure because of obesity we have one massive failure in the case of Anamarie Regino. She was removed from home at 3 years old but it failed to improve her weight. She was returned to her family and diagnosed with a genetic disorder that caused the weight gain. Oops.
There are many concerns here:
It’s tricky to use body size as a diagnosis:
- What about families where there are more than one child who eat the same diet but only one meets the definition of “extreme obesity”? Do they do interventions with all the children?
- The idea that you can tell how healthy a kid is by how much they weigh does a disservice to all kids, telling larger kids that they if healthy habits don’t make them thin then they can’t get healthier and telling thin kids that they are healthy because of their body size and regardless of their habits.
We don’t actually know that much about childhood obesity:
Despite the fact that everyone and their overbearing mother thinks that they know exactly why we have a childhood obesity crisis, the truth is that nobody is sure. There is considerable argument as to whether a crisis even exists. We don’t know if there are things in the environment that trigger some kids to gain a lot of weight, we don’t know if it’s that we have a fast food culture etc. Nothing is proven here so no matter how vehemently someone says that they know, they don’t. That makes it hard to find fault and place “blame.”
We don’t know how to make fat kids into thin kids:
- Every weight loss method tested shows a less than 5% success rate over a five year period. This is particularly bothersome in situations where children are placed in foster care, lose the weight and then return to their family with a 95% chance that they’ll regain the weight and their parents will be labeled as repeat offenders.
- If they go to foster care and do not lose weight or gain weight, are the foster parents then at risk for being accused of neglect? What happens next?
- The system already deals with “failure to thrive” cases in which parents are suspected of starving their children. Even those cases are problematic because sometimes there is a health issue with the child (celiacs disease for example or food allergies) that are causing the issue.
- Unless the parents are force-feeding these kids, there are serious issues determining causality and fault to charge them with abuse.
- Where are we going with this? Who is next?
- What about smokers who raise kids? Secondhand smoke contains more than 250 chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic (cancer-causing), including formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide. Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke are inhaling many of the same cancer-causing substances and poisons as smokers. Do we remove the ones who develop asthma? The ones with elevated blood pressure? Those born pre-term or with low birth weight?
What I think we really need to get out of this is how important it is for people to have information and access to the building blocks of health. Information about healthy eating and movement in combination with access to affordable foods and safe, affordable movement options that kids enjoy, affordable accessible preventative health care (not just reactive sick care). PE in every school and options that encourage a lifetime love of movement, rather than a lifetime of bitterness about PE. Dodgeball should go the way of the dinosaur. What if schools could offer more than just sports: dance, walking/hiking, Kinect style video games that incorporate movement etc? And not just during a PE hour but before and after school and during lunch and free periods, even on weekends? What if they offered busses and share-a-ride systems to the local YMCA or to the schools after-hours PE program? Wondering where you’ll get the money?
We’ve talked about this before but every year we give the diet industry $60 Billion dollars. Can you imagine what we could do if we could take that money out of their back pocket and use it to create access to food and movement options? If we stopped body shaming and bullying fat kids, allowing them to have the mental health that can only exist when they don’t live in a constant state of stigmatization would they be healthier? I think so.