By the American Society of Bariatric Physicians.
The American Society of Bariatric Physicians (ASBP) was discouraged to learn of the state of Ohio’s decision to remove an 8-year-old child from his home because of excessive weight issues. Media reports state that the boy was on the honor roll, actively participating in school activities, and not in any immediate danger. The ASBP believes that this type of state intervention sets a dangerous precedent, is extreme and highly unjustified.
With approximately one out of three children in America considered overweight or obese, childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions. ASBP does not attribute this dramatic increase solely to poor parenting. Race and ethnicity, genetic predisposition, environment in utero and birth weight all affect obesity rates long before any active parenting occurs. After birth poverty, infant feeding practices, parent education level, and the cost disparity between healthy and less healthful foods play a role. Children cannot expend energy as in the past because of the fear of abduction as well as unsafe sidewalks, trails, and parks. In schools vending machines, poor quality school lunches, and the regrettable removal of physical education and health classes factor in. If that child turns on a computer and browses the internet, she is barraged by cereal and candy advertisements. Increased caloric densities of foods and portion sizes have also paralleled our obesity epidemic.
This is not to say that parents are completely defenseless to our obesity causing environment. As physicians who treat childhood obesity, the ASBP recognizes that parental involvement is paramount to a child’s long-term success. Simple changes such as sitting down to dinner as a family, decreasing fast food consumption, controlling electronics and modeling healthy eating behaviors can have a significant impact on the weight of the entire family. Parents can remove junk foods from the home, decrease processed foods and increase produce (if they can afford to do so and have access to fresh fruits and vegetables). However, these behaviors alone do not guarantee success. Consider a family who has made these changes and the child remains severely obese. ASBP does not agree that the best or only option is to remove the child from his home.
Considering approximately two million children are severely obese, it seems risky to conclude that parental neglect is the common cause. Further the sheer numbers are clearly more than an already overburdened foster care system can handle. Obese children are discriminated against by peers and teachers, are bullied relentlessly, and have a quality of life equivalent to that of a cancer patient. The additional insult of removing a child from his or her home will in most cases do more harm than good. In addition, given the fact that 2/3 of our society is overweight and 1/3 obese, the chances that a child will be placed in a home of family who itself struggles with a weight problem is more likely than not.
In the case of the 8 year old Ohio boy, there appeared to be an engaged mother who expressed love for her child, but struggled to get him to lose weight. Since there were no reported signs of neglect or abuse in conjunction with this boy’s obesity, the ASBP considers state intervention unnecessary, unrealistic and likely damaging to the child long term.
About the ASBP. Founded in 1950, the ASBP is the oldest medical association dedicated to the non-surgical treatment of obesity and associated diseases. The ASBP is a collaborative organization that provides its members practical information and business tools to implement a successful medical bariatric practice. For more information about the ASBP, visit www.asbp.org.