A commentary recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) argues that custodial rights should be taken away from the parents of obese kids on the basis that “State intervention may serve the best interest of children living with life-threatening obesity”. Is this an area where authorities should intervene or should parents with their constitutional rights to raise their children be the best judge in guiding the nutritional course for their children?
What is obesity? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the terms overweight and obesity refer to ranges of weight that are greater than what is generally considered as healthy for a certain height. A calculation, known as the body mass index, uses a person’s weight and height to link the amount of body fat, and whether the person is overweight or obese. In 2003, New York ranked second highest among all states in total obesity related medical expenditures. Childhood obesity is a serious problem in New York State and our society as it tends to affect the long term health of our kids, and it adds to the economic burden of excessive health costs for overweight related medical conditions. In 2008, the New York State comptroller’s office published a report on “Preventing and Reducing Childhood Obesity in New York”, according to this report one in four New Yorkers under the age of 18, or approximately 1.1 million young people, is obese. Even children as young as six months of age are affected by obesity and obesity has become more widespread as children grow up. As a result, the State of New York embarked on some key initiatives to address the issue of childhood obesity. For example, New York instituted statewide audits of school lunch services and physical education programs to ensure compliance with guidelines; The State Education Department has also established requirements that vending machines in schools cannot dispense soda or candy prior to the end of the last lunch period. However, ensuring these rules and other similar controls are being enforced will be key in controlling what our kids eat outside of the home.
In the final analysis, the schools and the State can only do so much, the responsibility lies with the parent to ensure that their children are eating the right foods and are exercising regularly to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Indeed, the seriousness of this problem is forcing States to become more active in holding parents accountable for managing their children’s weight. For example, obesity appears to have been the primary reason a South Carolina mom Jerri Gray lost custody of her 14-year-old, 555-lb. son in May. She was arrested after missing a court date to examine whether she should retain custody after doctors had expressed concern about her son’s weight to social services. Several other cases in recent years, in California, New Mexico, Texas and New York, have garnered attention because a child’s obesity resulted in loss of custody.
So whether parents are to blame seems irrelevant as State courts are coming to the conclusion that parents are fully accountable for childhood obesity. However, before we surrender our parental rights to the courts, there are a lot that we can do as parents to proactively address this problem and minimize the risk of childhood obesity. First and foremost we have to be aware of what childhood obesity is and take positive actions to combat it. For more information on what you can do to keep your child healthy contact: www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/keystrategies/index.htm.
I would like to hear your views, send me your comments.