In an article by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it was suggested that the government should become involved in families with morbidly obese children. The authors, David Ludwig and Lindsey Murtagh, suggest that approximately two million morbidly obese children should be put on a diet by the government and removed from their parents if they do not show progress.
Morbid obesity is defined as a person whose body mass index (BMI) is over 40; morbidly obese children can suffer from diabetes, breathing problems and other issues that may shorten their lives. The authors have suggested that state laws for child abuse and neglect should be modified to include protection of children in these severe cases.
In California, and a handful of other states, the government actually has some capacity to intervene in cases in which children are malnourished to “overnourished” and severely obese. This is not to say that the government will intervene each and every time, but that the case worker would have the discretion to intervene in a particularly bad case.
There are many criticisms and issues that arise from the proposal made in this article. The main issue is that the government may only compel medical treatment of a child against the parents’ wishes if the child is at imminent risk of death. Although it is unfortunate that some children are so overweight that they start to develop health problems, those health problems are usually still treatable and they are not in imminent risk of death.
Another major issue is when to draw the line for government intervention. Lawmakers would have a tough time deciding when a social worker or government official should intervene, and for what length of time. This could potentially result in overburdening the foster care system, which is already feeling the strain.
Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., in this article suggests that perhaps the solution to the problem is addressing the cause. Our food culture is completely out of whack–almost all of the food commercials on TV are for unhealthy food, school cafeterias are serving subpar lunches and more often than not, the junk food at stores are more inexpensive than vegetables and fruits.
Even though public policy will likely not support government intervention in every case of childhood morbid obesity, perhaps it’s time for society and parents to step up together and save our children.