Reality Check: Should obese children be taken from their parents?

Published: Dec. 7, 2011 at 12:32 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 7, 2011 at 12:41 PM EST
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(FOX19) - It was a little over a week ago when an Ohio boy made national headlines after he was taken out of his mother's home and placed into foster care for being obese.

So, what right did the state have to take that straight-A student?

County workers in Cuyahoga County were first alerted to the boy's weight in 2010 when his mother had taken him to the hospital for breathing problems. At 8 years old, he weighs over 200 pounds.

It was after that hospital visit that social workers began monitoring the family. The boy's mother agreed to enroll her son in a special Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital program called Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight.

The boy did lose some weight initially but began to gain it back, and that was when the state stepped in, placing the boy into foster care.

"You're not purchasing your own food somebody else is really having much more control over what you're eating for good or for ill," said Dr. James Kalber, an obesity expert.

Where did this idea to take obese and severely overweight children out of their homes and place them in foster care come from?

Earlier this year, Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Harvard-affiliated Children's Hospital Boston wrote an opinion piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

He recommended severely obese children be removed from their parents' homes and placed in foster care for their own good.

Obesity, he says, causes major medical issues such as type 2 diabetes, breathing difficulties and liver and heart problems.

So were health concerns part of the reason the Cleveland boy was taken from his home? Perhaps, but they were not listed as immediate threats.

The county listed that the boy's weight put him at risk for developing diabetes and hypertension, but not that he is currently suffering from those issues.

While this is the first case in Ohio of a child being removed by protective services from a home solely based upon their weight, this is not the only severely obese child in Ohio or even in Cuyahoga County.

The state health department estimates that 12 percent of third graders are severely obese. So just using those numbers, that would mean that 1,380 would live in Cuyahoga County alone...

Is the state going to take nearly 1,400 kids from those homes and put them into a state system that already has 14,000 kids in foster care and 2,500 waiting for adoptive homes?

Here's what we do know.

Cuyahoga County doesn't even have a specific, concrete policy when dealing with obese kids, so why this one boy?

And the decision to remove the boy raises a number of questions including:

  • Are the boy's new foster parents personal trainers, or health experts?
  • Are foster parents trained to safely get this boy's weight down?
  • What happens if he remains obese in the care of those foster parents? Is the child then moved over and over because of his weight?

Perhaps CFS has thought all of these issues through, but so far, have not shared this strategy with anyone on the outside.

And that is Reality Check.

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