Before state intervention, parental intervention

The theorizing has become reality: In July, a round of commentary (including mine) swelled after researchers suggested that foster custody might be preferable to bariatric surgery as a remedy for a child's severe obesity.

Last week, a child in northern Ohio was removed from his mother's care because he's 200 pounds, more than three times the norm for his age, 8. Here's the Cleveland Plain Dealer's quote by the mother: "They are trying to make it seem like I am unfit, like I don't love my child. Of course I love him. Of course I want him to lose weight. It's a lifestyle change, and they are trying to make it seem like I am not embracing that. It is very hard, but I am trying." 

I am a parent, but not one who has had to deal with this issue, thank God, so far, so perhaps I'm not yet entitled to mock her claim to "trying." What's to try? Does the boy have independent income, to buy whatever he wants to eat? What food is available in the house, and what's his access to it? What does the mom eat? 

I do agree that a lifestyle change is necessary, quite possibly for the entire family, not just the boy. More than anything else, what anyone needs who is struggling with obesity — in themselves or for a ward — is to understand that obesity is a serious condition that leads almost nowhere good.

Statistically, fat kids are far more likely to grow into fat adults, and fat adults are far more likely to encounter diabetes, heart disease, joint and respiratory distress, and more. Nothing more need be said, but there are far more quality-of-life pitfalls to a fat existence than "just" health, and they don't appear only in adulthood.


Change is easy, once the proper motivation presents itself. My example for this is cancer: No sane person would make appointments to undergo regular irradiation or consume severely noxious chemicals, unless they were told that such steps would be less harmful than the alternative. Once people understand the severity of their situation, they'll do almost anything.

So is foster care too drastic? If the mom were feeding her child cocaine, or cyanide, there'd be no doubt.

The question is, does a steady diet of Twinkies, Golden Grahams, Big Gulps, and Big Macs, procured for and served to a child who shows obvious sensitivity to junk food, also constitute child abuse? As a food addict myself, I have no hesitation in comparing the two — and that's expressly without concluding that this boy is even a compulsive eater, never mind an addict.

Regardless of one's political stripe, I think just about everyone would agree that parental intervention would have been far more preferable to state intervention. To that I would add, parental intervention would have come far sooner if the true severity of the condition were more widely appreciated.

That intervention isn't only about putting locks on cupboards. It's parents' making responsible food choices for themselves. It's parents insisting that pizza and Tater Tots are not acceptable school-cafeteria fare. It's trying to counter the pervasive influence of billions in junk-food advertisting.

It's acting as if what one eats, and how much one eats, is important. That not only sets an example for kids, it is actually true.


Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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