I was asked twice yesterday for my penny's worth of reaction to this story, about whether extremely obese children should be put in foster care:
It has happened a few times in the U.S., and the opinion piece in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association says putting children temporarily in foster care is in some cases more ethical than obesity surgery.
It's an interesting and important question, and I regret to say that the best answer I have is "I don't know." Yea, I know, amazingly sage-errific, right?
Logic does support the concept: Only the most libertarian voice would argue there is never a time when society should protect a kid who is being maltreated. And pretty solid evidence shows that obese children very often become obese adults, and that obese adults experience shorter lives with degraded health.
So the question is, how malformed a child has to be before the state's obligation for child protection kicks in. Codifying, say, a BMI cutoff would be impossible, and leaving a decision in subjective hands would always displease someone.
I have seen kids in the mall where the line sure seemed violated to me, but I sure don't want the job of deciding.
The obvious long-term answer to the problem is to not let it get so bad, but how's that going to happen? The wide incidence of severe obesity — and please remember, I was there before it was cool — has a wretched thicket of causes that nobody completely agrees on, and there's even less agreement on what to do about the acknowledged ones.
For the record, I'm a fan of personal responsibility, and of parental responsibility in the case of minors. It is up to parents to make fitness a family priority, in all the ways that can take shape: Good nutrition at home, not only preached but practiced by everyone; insistence on good nutrition in school lunches and plentiful nutritious options in restaurants; and keeping out or countering as much of the vile promotional sludge that companies spew out.
I don't say that this will be easy for parents to accomplish, but who said parenting is supposed to be easy? It is our job to raise our kids to be healthy and happy, period, is it not?
Finally, I insist on responsibility across the board. That means that government has to be an independent and fair arbiter of the line between corporate rights and corporate excesses, and that corporations are responsible for the products they concoct and for their effects on people. Preventing and beating obesity is no one's job alone, but no one gets a free pass, either.
Sadly, nothing in that manifesto is going to help the 400-pound 12-year-old today. That kid is not happy, and not healthy, and she or he is going to need a lot of help and empathy to join the mainstream. I didn't embark until in my late 20s, but when I did, those were among the keys for me.