Should very obese children be taken away from their parents by the state? This was the recent recommendation of Harvard pediatrics professor and obesity expert David Ludwig, and, as you can imagine, it created quite a brouhaha. The debate on this subject interested me especially because, not too far in the past, I was… ahem… a fat kid myself. (And I’ve included photos to prove it!)
When I was five or six I was your average, skinny kid. Over the course of the next few years, however, I began to put on weight. Initially I was probably best described as just a little husky:
It wasn’t long though, that this husky kid and his predilection for milk shakes (and other not so healthy foods) expanded into something bigger. I remember overhearing my fifth grade teacher tell another teacher, “Gee, Mike gained a lot of weight over the summer, didn’t he?”
Eventually, by the time I hit my biggest weight at the age of fourteen, there was this:
Being a fat kid is not fun. All it takes is one person to call you a “Fat Ass,” or something equally as charming, and it will stick with you forever.
There are a myriad of hurtful stories I could tell you, but the one that comes to mind involves a basketball camp I went to one summer. Its instructors were teenagers who played for local high schools, and I thought they were the bee’s knees. One day the instructors announced we were going to play a game, and that they would keep score like they do at their high school games! I was stoked (to use the vernacular of the time), and after scoring half a dozen baskets and pulling down even more rebounds, I couldn’t wait to read the score-sheet.
My fellow campers and I crowded the clipboard our high school hero had kept score on, and scanned it for our names. Strangely, while all the other kids’ names were on there, mine was not. I was very confused until I saw “Fat Kid” scrawled on the sheet. Sure enough, my stats for the game were written next to it. Way to go, Fat Kid.
I tell you all of this because it explains A) why I am interested in the “should very obese children be taken from their homes,” debate, and how I might have a little more insight into the subject than the average person.
The kids Professor Ludwig suggest the state take from their homes are much larger than I was, kids whose BMI (body mass index) place them in the 99th percentile. Kids like these have life-threatening obesity, and are likely to develop type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and liver problems. More often than not these kids have equally obese parents.
So would taking these kids from their parents help the situation?
Looking back, it’s clear to me that my being overweight had a great deal to do with the food my parents provided me. While we always had healthy dinners, we also had way too many “fourth meals” or “snacks” throughout the day. My Mom, who has issues with weight herself, would take my sister and me to get fast food after school, and there were also lots of trips to ice cream shops and the like. It seems very clear to me that there is a correlation between a kid’s weight and his or her parents eating habits.
So, in these extreme cases where a 99th percentile kid is being affected by his or her parents’ addiction to food (yes, people can be addicted to food just like drugs or alcohol), wouldn’t taking them out of that dangerous environment make sense? If only long enough for the kids to spend some time in a healthy eating environment and their to parents receive treatment/training about food? After all, we would expect the state to take a child out of a home where he or she was being affected by his or her parents’ addiction to drugs or alcohol, wouldn’t we?
It’s not as simple as that though. Taking a kid away from his family will be a highly traumatic experience, and there could be medical explanations for why a kid is in the 99th percentile. There’s also the question of whether the state could be trusted to help only those extreme cases who really needed help, and not start taking less overweight kids from their homes.
Ideally, taking kids from their home would only be a last case scenario. If I were calling the shots (President Mike!) I would first offer the parents of 99th percentile kids counseling and/or training in hopes of improving the situation. That won’t always work, however, and I personally think that in some extreme, life threatening situations the state should be able to take a very obese child from an unhealthy home.
But hey, that’s just this former fat kid’s two cents.