Have our weight problems really come to this? Are parents of morbidly obese children guilty of child abuse on the level that it warrants them losing custody?
It’s not just in the U.S. – this is a worldwide debate. A Scottish couple lost custody of two of their six children because they failed to reduce the kids’ weight following warnings from Scottish social services.
In another case, a South Carolina mother lost custody of her 14-year-old son in May – he was 555 pounds. Jerri Gray didn’t help her case when she missed a court date to examine whether she should retain custody. The boy is currently living with his aunt. His mother, who was arrested, is facing criminal child-neglect charges.
“It’s happening more than the public is aware of, but because these cases are usually kept quiet [due to child-privacy laws], we have no record,” says Dr. Matt Capehorn, who sits on the board of the U.K.’s National Obesity Forum.
Authorities insist that removing children from their parents is a last resort. And since childhood obesity can lead to a host of adult health problems (diabetes, hypertension, heart disease), there is merit to the idea of putting on par with child abuse.
“Children are vulnerable. If they’re given food and told to finish what’s on the plate, they’ll eat it, and without exercise get bigger and bigger,” says Tam Fry, chairman of Britain’s Child Growth Foundation.
But there is some support for the idea that it’s not a black and white issue.
“It’s unfair to blame solely the parents, when there’s a myriad of other factors influencing a child’s weight,” says Dr. Dana Rofey of the University of Pittsburgh. Rofey runs a weight-management clinic, which is often called on during custody battles where squabbling divorced parents blame each other for making their child obese.