Foster Care for Fat Kids?

A new commentary in JAMA (the journal of the American Medical Association) has caused a firestorm over the suggestion that it may be appropriate for governments to take obese children away from their parents under certain circumstances. Unsurprisingly, shrill anti-obesity zealot MeMe Roth is full-on in favor of Uncle Sam seizing overweight kids from their homes. Roth, who thinks Santa Claus is a bad example for kids because of his size, once had to be restrained from vandalizing a YMCA snack table. She later attacked American Idol winner Jordin Sparks for being too fleshy.

Sane people should be concerned that this is an outrageous overreach. David Ludwig and a JAMA co-author try to downplay the implications of their argument by saying government child-seizure should be reserved for cases of extreme obesity. (JAMA took the largely unprecedented step of sending out an email stating, "The content of this commentary is solely the responsibility of the authors.")

Who’s to say it’ll stop there once it starts?

This sets up a dangerous precedent. It’s obviously bad parenting to enable a child to become grossly overweight, but that’s not a compelling enough reason for state involvement. If the feds can seize kids for being too fat, can they also grab those who don’t score well on tests?

(And what’s to stop the government from changing the standards to seize any overweight kid? And “overweight” by whose standards? And if a parent doesn’t want to relinquish his or her child to the state, does Child Protective Services call in a SWAT team? We could go on.)

The trauma of being sent to a foster home could have profound psychological effects on a child. Already, government-issued Body Mass Index report cards (relatively benign in comparison to child-seizure) have led to eating disorders in kids. Nothing good comes of breaking up families.

One University of Pennsylvania bioethicist argues: “The only basis for compelling medical treatment against a parent’s wishes are if a child is at imminent risk of death — meaning days or hours — and a proven cure exists for what threatens to kill them. Obesity does not pass these requirements.”

The last thing Americans need is an overzealous neighbor like Roth, who believes a cupcake “is the same as putting a gun in your mouth,” dialing 9-1-1 because your kid is little husky. Let’s promote healthy eating, physical activity and responsible parenting, but leave Big Brother out.

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