Obesity as Child Abuse

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In food addiction, unlike with other addictions, exposure to the “drug” comes from the first day we draw breath. And now, a Cleveland area 8-year old has been taken from his home because mom couldn’t keep his weight down. The child is reported to be heavier than 200 pounds.

According to the news report , social workers justified the action because the child is at risk for diabetes and hypertension. The decision opens the door for other, copy-cat “rescues.” It is estimated that 12% of that age group is obese in Ohio.

A representative of Social Services said, "This child's problem was so severe that we had to take custody. (The agency worked with the mother for more than a year before asking Juvenile Court for custody of the child).” In this case, there was documented medical evidence and taking the child was due to the mother being unable to follow through with a doctor’s recommendation.

As obesity is seen more and more as a medical condition and one where choice is involved, blame falls on those who do not make the right choices. Those addicted to food tell us it isn’t as simple as a decision to eat or not eat – there’s the same emotionally driven component that other addicts feel. There is a parallel with how we used to view alcoholism or drug addiction as a moral choice or a reflection of a flawed character. The question is how much of this applies to a child and whether the parents are the culprits.

There is no dispute that being overweight as a child has real medical consequences. Also, in this case, there wasn’t a rush to judgment. Instead, there was a chain of intervention that only resulted in the removal of the child when no progress was shown. But this is possibly the tip of a very large iceberg.

A related question is whether a household that allows easy access to food constitutes a “dangerous environment.” This is the rationale for the rescue above, and has been used to remove children from houses where drugs are being used as well. Critics argue that the foster care system is itself a dangerous environment. The debate will no doubt continue.

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