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July 14 2011

Leave the Cannoli, Take the Kid...

Julie Gunlock

A new report out of Harvard, published in the latest edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, advocates removing dangerously obese children from their homes and putting them in foster care where ostensibly they will lose weight and begin to eat healthily.

Take a moment to let that seep in.

Lindsey "I'm a robot with no feelings" Murtagh, one of the authors of the report, showed her soft side saying, "Despite the discomfort posed by state intervention, it may sometimes be necessary to protect a child."

Discomfort?

Ummm, Linds, I know you're a super-smart lawyer and all, but let me give you some examples of discomfort: a rock in your shoe, too-tight jeans, accidently rubbing a chili pepper in your eye, watching a movie with an unexpected sex scene with your parents in the room.

Having your child ripped from your home might better be described as agony, horror, torment, misery. And for the child, it is almost certain to be a lasting, scarring trauma.

The study's co-author, Dr. David Ludwig, says taking away peoples' children "ideally will support not just the child but the whole family, with the goal of reuniting child and family as soon as possible."

I have a better and faster way to reunite the family: Don't take the child away in the first place.

Dr. Ludwig said his "eureka" moment came when he treated a 90-pound, three-year-old. This child lived with her disabled parents who were unable to properly care for her. After being taken from her home, the child lost weight and no longer has symptoms of her obesity-related health problems. This unique case is certainly sad, and perhaps this child is better off outside her home, but these freak cases do not represent the norm upon which policy decisions or recommendations should be made.

The fact that this case compelled these researchers to make these recommendations shows just how obsessed the medical community has become with obesity - trumping even the emotional wellbeing of children. Based on this one case, Ms. Murtagh and Dr. Ludwig have prescribed a solution for severely obese children generally. Ignoring the complexity of the human body and the many causes of obesity, the report's authors simply assume obese children are fat because parents are negligent.

We've seen this before - the cause of obesity is unhealthy school lunches, it is chocolate milk, sugar, fat, too much salt, fast food, toys in Happy Meals, the lack of physical education programs in schools! Now, it's negligent parents, and the solution is to take the kids away from mom and dad.

So, where does it end? Should we start rounding up promiscuous girls because their lifestyle can lead to disease, pregnancy, and other traumatic and emotionally difficult events? Should we take away young boys who experiment with drugs because they could move on to a life of drug abuse, crime, and disease? 

Parents and the public generally understand that children should only be taken from their homes in the most extreme circumstances. Parents may rarely be perfect, but foster homes aren't either.  Many foster parents are dedicated, loving people trying to do right by the children put in their care, but the system is overwhelmed and understaffed. There's simply a dearth of good foster homes available to the children who really need them. And sadly, abuse is not uncommon. Some studies suggest that between 20 and 25 percent of children in foster homes experience some form of abuse.  

It's clear that Ms. Murtagh and Dr. Ludwig believe that the worst fate to befall a child is obesity, but they might want to consider this other inconvenient truth about child development: Interfering with the attachment a child feels for their parents can lead to a lifetime of devastating emotional problems.

But who cares . . . at least they'll be skinny emotional train wrecks.

-Julie Gunlock is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women's Forum

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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