By Jay Timms : I am grateful for the opportunity I have to be the newest addition to the TAN family. This column is being called “Family Matters” for two reasons. First, being in a family is never easy. None of us has gone to school to learn how to raise our own families. Even my wife and children will tell you that although I have spent years learning how to help families, some days it appears like I have no idea what I am doing in my own family. That’s just it. None of us do. I hope in this column to be able to provide information on “matters” within the family to help us all learn to be better in this most important network. I will be speaking about health, relationships, spirituality, parenting, child and youth behaviours, and many more over the coming months and years.
The second reason this column will be called “Family Matters” is simply because families do matter. Say what you want about the “state of the nation”, but I am on the bandwagon that says if we want to fix what is happening in our communities and countries, we have to start by fixing what is going on in our own homes first. I look forward to your feedback on the thoughts that I will present to you.
Our first topic is going to be one that is not always a popular conversation to have, but one that is needed none the less. There is growing concern about the health of our children, and people are looking to lay the blame on someone.
Parents of severely obese children should lose their custody rights for not controlling their kids’ weight, according to the authors of a recently published opinion piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“In severe instances of childhood obesity, removal from the home may be justifiable […] because of imminent health risks and the parents’ chronic failure to address medical problems,” wrote Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity expert at the Children’s Hospital Boston and author of the article, which he co-wrote with Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health. Under these circumstances, “state intervention may serve the best interests of many children with life-threatening obesity, comprising the only realistic way to control harmful behaviors.”
As an example, Dr. Ludwig cited a case of a three-year-old girl who weighed 90 pounds when her parents brought her in for treatment. At the age of 12, her weight exceeded 400 pounds. By then she suffered from diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and sleep apnea. Eventually, the state placed the girl in foster care, where she was put on a weight loss diet and lost 130 pounds.
Having worked with Child Protection Services in Canada, I have seen many cases where parents fail to care for their children and until they can remedy the situation, their children are removed, hopefully temporarily. In Canada, we call it a “Section 13 concern”, which refers to Section 13 of the Child, Family, and Community Service Act. Section 13 outlines what can be considered as actions from a parent or caregiver which endangers the child in any way. Nowhere does it specifically state that in cases of obesity that a child can be removed, but the wording is often left to interpretation. For instance, subsections within Section 13 state that a child requires protection “if a child has been, or is likely to be physically harmed by the child’s parent”, “if the child has been, or is likely to be harmed because of the neglect by the child’s parent”, or “if the child’s parent is unable or unwilling to care for the child and has not made adequate provision for the child’s care”. Now, nowhere in there does it say anything about obesity, but when you read between the lines, could there be a case?
Although it may appear that this is a new discussion, the topic of “protecting obese children” is far from new. Cases of obesity being the primary concern in child protection removals have occurred across North America.
For instance, in South Carolina, a mother lost custody over her 14-year old son who weighed 555 pounds at the time. Childhood obesity was cited as the reason for loss of custody in California, New Mexico, Texas and New York. Other countries have taken similar steps. A Scottish couple had their children removed from home because of “failure to reduce the kids’ weight” after repeated warnings from social services were ignored.
Childhood obesity in the U.S. is reaching crisis level. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 12 million children and adolescents are obese today. Two million children are considered morbidly obese with a body-mass-index (BMI) at or above the 99th percentile. In Canada, it is reported that 8.6% of children and youth are obese.
Jamie Oliver, in his T.V. reality show “The Food Revolution” made the startling assertion that maybe the blame for obesity shouldn’t be solely placed on the shoulders of parents. He felt that schools do a poor job of educating children on the impacts of the foods that they eat. His mission was to help schools learn how to prepare healthy food for their students and educate the students on basics like “is there such thing as a carrot tree?”
Dr. Dana Rofey, professor at Pittsburgh University and director of a weight-management clinic, tends to agree with Jamie Oliver. She says, “It’s unfair to blame solely the parents, when there’s a myriad of other factors influencing a child’s weight.” In her work, she said, she sees an array of contributing factors to childhood obesity, including genetic predisposition, socioeconomic status, environmental factors and exposure to advertising.
What do you think? Who is to blame for obese children and what should be done about it?
Jay Timms BMT, MA, CCC ,Author, Presenter, Wellness Consultant
Relationship and Family Counsellor Trivita Affiliate #13442869
(604-816-9405) – (1-888-901-9454) www.jaytimms.com