So It’s Come to This

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Public health academics are now seriously suggesting that the government take obese children away from their parents.

I’m not sure there’s really much debate to be had here. You either find this self-evidently horrifying, or you don’t.

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85 Responses to “So It’s Come to This”

  1. #1 |  Marty | 

    shorties are probably living in a heavy smoking environment… they need saving, too.

  2. #2 |  Mannie | 

    Take all children from their parents, and raise them in the agoge.

  3. #3 |  Big A | 

    How come no one ever worries about easily influenced children learning to tattle and stick their nose in everyone else’s business while ignoring their own less than savory behaviors? I mean, those poor kids never get a chance to be decent human beings who can just enjoy life without trying to improve everyone else’s.

  4. #4 |  Dept. of Families Bureaucrat | 

    I agree. This is self-evidently horrifying! Everyone knows the parents should be prosecuted and incarcerated to protect the public. Then you take the children.

  5. #5 |  Fred | 

    the state is mother the state is father

  6. #6 |  Dante | 

    To save the children, the US Government sends in SWAT teams which kill the children.

    To save the children, the US Government recruits the very poor ones and sends them to be maimed or killed in some God-forsaken desert.

    To save the children, the US Government now wants to take away our children. No doubt if they did this, our children would be placed in US Government-approved foster homes where they would be raped.

    It’s time for the 99% of us who DON’T work for the US Government to seriously discuss having same declared a “Terrorist Organization”.

    You know, to save the children. Really.

  7. #7 |  B | 

    Oddly enough I don’t.

    Let’s say you find a child that’s significantly underweight, but still quite alive. Doctors say the child could survive under these conditions for a long while, but the malnourishment will cause significant long term damage and the child is at risk for all types of illness and organ failure later in life.

    Would the police take that child from the parents? Probably. Would we all be ok with it? Probably.

    Now imagine at similar child that’s 100+ pounds overweight. All the same warnings apply. The kid is alive and could keep living under these conditions. But 100+ pounds of fat on a developing child put him/her at serious risk later in life.

    So why would your answer change?

    The only problem I see is the dividing line for healthy/underweight is pretty well defined. But the line for healthy/dangerously obese is murky. Where’s the line: 50, 100, 150 lbs overweight? So we’re afraid there will be tremendous abuse of discretion.

  8. #8 |  CyniCAl | 

    It’s inevitable. Follow the trendline. The endgame is total government. Ain’t nothing gonna stop that train, our host’s valiant if quixotic attempts notwithstanding.

    It might even be better with total government control of children. What we have now is near-total government control over children with parents forced to foot the bill. If somehow that “footing the bill” thingy were removed, and the truth of the system were revealed, that would be an “improvement” right? Of course, the bill will continue to be footed regardless, we all know that. Foot makes an odd verb.

    Anyway, if the government keeps making it unpalatable to have and raise children in the US, then birth rates will necessarily decline, which will doom the Ponzi system. Then again, minorities in America appear to have no issues with government control of their children as their birth rates are increasing, with Hispanics set to displace Caucasians as the majority in California, and Asians not too far behind.

    I predict the State will win.

    /racist rant

  9. #9 |  Lefty | 

    This isn’t an easy one but I think #6 makes a good case. Kids aren’t possessions after all. You can’t just fuck them up however you like.

  10. #10 |  Flypsyde | 

    Why is it OK to endanger a child’s life and health via gross overfeeding but not via the opposite, underfeeding or starvation?

  11. #11 |  M | 

    Gov’t enforced sameness! Next: kids who get too much or too little sun

    I like not living in a monoculture.

  12. #12 |  B | 

    I’m going to invoke Robin Hanson here. Your opinion on somewhat motivated by a status signal. Being fat is a first world problem. Being malnourished is a third world problem. Seeing fat children signals extreme poverty. So we see more inherent wrongness in underweight children and are quicker to punish that.

    Which is worse?
    White/Asian parents make young child practice violin 3 hours a day after school.
    Hispanic parents make young child pick strawberries 3 hours a day after school.

    As much as some of you would like to claim playing musical instruments helps with math, that’s mostly false. Doing math helps with math. Playing the violin signals the parent’s wealth.

    Both activities are pretty useless except that they teach young children the discipline of hard work. But they add almost no real value in the child’s education. So why are we ok with parents forcing young kids to play useless classical instruments, but we’re appalled that immigrant parents make their kids work in fields or textile shops.

    Because we see more wrongness in signals associated with poverty.

  13. #13 |  Mike | 

    It was always gonna come to this. I think the implication was pretty clear once we started with the “For The Children” bullshit.

  14. #14 |  CyniCAl | 

    There is a problem. There is a State. The State MUST solve the problem. So simple.

    The essence of the State war against the individual is that the State forcefully exercises the power to substitute its judgment for that of the individual. Once it starts, there’s no stopping it.

    Ever notice that bad things continue to happen despite State action? That the problems just keep on coming even though the State has existed and interfered for thousands of years?

    To those who advocate State intervention (always in someone else’s case, never their own, ever notice that???), ask yourselves, “Do I trust my own judgment or that of the State?” If you answer the latter, you are either lying or insane. Either way, you are not fit for adulthood.

    To those who would have the State save every child at risk at the expense of the freedom of every individual, guilty or innocent, it is obvious that the only practical solution is to seize total control of every child at birth. Anything else is an imperfect compromise that leaves children at the mercy of their biological parents. So quit advocating half-measures and take a brave stand already, wear that totalitarianism like a badge of honor.

  15. #15 |  Joey Maloney | 

    Libertarian blogger wildly misrepresents article to shoehorn it into his ideology. You either find this self-evidently horrifying or…just SOP.

  16. #16 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Watch this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNATWsVVwgo

    I hate to say it, but a 400lbs. 8-year-old *should* be taken from her parents. She would have likely died. Watch her walk after she’s lost the weight – she was crippled by the obesity. So, for me, the question is where the line is.

    As someone above said, if a child is malnourished, we have no problem with the state taking them (at least I don’t). If a child is dying of obesity, I also have no problem. My real concern is codifying it, which can lead to everything that we’re worried about. Jessica got help from a court even without this being some sort of “law”, so I’m not sure anything more needs to be done given that this is a rarity.

  17. #17 |  Mattocracy | 

    This is horrifying. These kids weren’t made fat against their will. This is not the same is being abused physically, molested, or the like.

    Removing an obese child from his/her comfort zone isn’t going to make him/her want to lose weight. It’s just going to psychologically fuck them up more, possibly making them eat more and cause greater depression. This isn’t a solution, this is throwing gas on the fire.

  18. #18 |  poetry | 

    Joey (#12),

    Did you click the fucking links? Radley didn’t “misrepresent,” he damn near plagiarized!

  19. #19 |  poetry | 

    oh shit. i meant #15.

    how did i mess that up?

  20. #20 |  Lefty | 

    #11 I agree with you to a point. The state shouldn’t interfere in the personal lives of citizens or restrict freedoms unnecessarily. In cases of child abuse (and I’m not convinced this is) society has a compelling need to stop it. Is it really an essential freedom to fuck up your kids as much as you want. They aren’t possessions.

  21. #21 |  JS | 

    And religious fundamentalists too.

  22. #22 |  John Jenkins | 

    @B: Your logic is flawed in that obesity is negatively correlated with wealth in the United States (that is, obesity is a “poor people” problem), which is why this policy is under consideration. It would mostly affect poor people who don’t have any way to fight back. Additionally, the last data I am aware of (CDC 2009) show that childhood obesity is a greater problem for black (51% greater) and hispanic (21% greater) children than white children, so you manage to pull off the perfect government policy: it’s “for the children” and its negative affects are mostly (maybe completely) borne by the poor and by minorities, who have the least ability to resist.

    This is ignoring the implicit logic in your position that a parent risking their child’s imminent death or permanent injury (malnourishment) is on the same plane with obesity (which people live a long, long time with), especially given that in many cases of obesity, the government is complicit with its “nutrition” programs and guidelines. Imminence is an important factor in the calculus here.

    Finally, you’re assuming the government would *do a better job*! The child protective services in Oklahoma were recently exposed as having placed foster children with a pedophile who, being a pedophile, sexually abused the children who were placed with him (he was such a nice man!), all without repercussions for DHS! Would you rather be molested or fat? You can always lose weight, it’s hard to get undiddled.

  23. #23 |  H. Rearden | 

    It takes a government to raise a child. Who else is going to do it?

    And the government would never neglect a child. Want proof? Try charging a gov’t official for child neglect of one of their wards of state.

  24. #24 |  SJE | 

    I disagree with Radley.
    In general, the state should not interfere with parenting, and is there is a problem, then they should find a way to help, like diets, etc, short of taking custody. But there are some horror stories. A 400lb 8 yo is a serious medical condition. A 300lb 12 yo is a serious medical condition. We are not talking about ” a little pudgy”. At some stage, it is appropriate for the state to protect minorities where the parents are not acting in the best interests of the kids.

    To put it another way, what is the difference between a parent with an 400 lb 8 year old, and a parent who has an 8 yo with a serious drug habit. The courts would not hesitate to take custody of the latter.

  25. #25 |  Jerry | 

    #16 – I agree with you, that the hardest part is where to draw the line. An 8 year old who is 400 lbs, probably deserves the chance to be somewhere else until he/she gets her weight under control, but the problem I have is that line. I totally hate the BMI number, and that’s what the government does; it tries to fit everyone in a box whether that box fits us or not. So that would be my problem, who gets to decide where that line is.

    I can remember when my son was about 12, he was rather pudgy and probably overweight. I can remember the non-stop nagging by everyone about his eating, how he doesn’t get out, yada, yada, yada. Fast forward a few of years, he grew almost 6 inches and went from being slightly overweight to being nothing even close to that anymore. So I say again, who gets to decide when that line should be crossed?

  26. #26 |  WWJGD | 

    Ken at Popehat did a pretty good takedown of the Harvard study. I’ll just cite his ending summary because I think it captures the REAL concern that should come out of this.

    “Ludwig and Murtagh may well take the Beckian stance that they are “just asking questions” — simply raising the topic for greater discussion, not advocating any hasty broadening of state power over citizens’ children. I interpret their brief column as exactly that — an attempt to start the discussion and lend JAMA’s credibility to the proposition that forcible removal of obese children is supported by medical academia at the highest level. But the state always thirsts for such power, and is always too eager to get academic support for seizing it. Sooner or later, Ludwig and Murtagh will be cited in some local bureaucrat’s application to take a child from his or her parents. Will that child meet the narrow diagnostic criteria that Ludwig and Murtagh have in mind? Perhaps — and perhaps not. The strong possibility that those footnote-referenced diagnostic criteria will be neither understood nor met is, I submit, a factor that Ludwig and Murtagh have not weighed adequately. They have started the dialogue, but distant, barely-supervised and poorly-restrained state officials will finish it for them. Ludwig and Murtagh might also have suggested that parents could buy vicious attack dogs to scare their fat children away from the refrigerator; though the dogs could be trained, in theory, to do so in a safe and appropriate manner, the natural and probable result is blood on the floor.”

    http://www.popehat.com/2011/07/13/harvard-researchers-also-know-what-is-best-for-your-children-sort-of-maybe/

  27. #27 |  Danny | 

    Radley is not thinking this one through. This kind of extreme overfeeding of a child is a clinical problem, not a tolerable lifestyle choice. I would hope there could be a ‘softer’ intervention than foster care placement, but if that’s the only option, so be it.

  28. #28 |  Mattocracy | 

    This sort of makes me think about the death penalty debates we’ve had here. It’s not a true parallel (killing a guy and having an overweight kid are obviously not the same), but a lot people here state that they aren’t willing to allow the government to engage in cap punishment because of the mistakes it makes.

    And we’re gonna trust these same assholes not to make mistakes with our children? Child Protective Services is full of horror stories of kids being placed with abusive adults, pedophiles, etc. Just like various states have admitted to executing 120 plus innocent people. Prosecutors engage in horrible tactics for the sake of political gain with no regard to the innocent people they hurt. Do you really think that agents of child services won’t do the same and at the same rate?

    Based on some grim history lessons, I feel confident saying that there are going to be a lot of stories of non-obese kids being taken away from their parents when they don’t need to be. I also feel pretty confident saying that there are going to be kids who get mistreated severely in this process even if they are severely obese. How many innocent kids are we gonna allow the state to fuck up for the sake those who need help?

    Further, how do we know that these kids are gonna actually get the help they need? There are countless examples of government trying to help and making it worse. How do we know the rebels we’re supporting aren’t worse than Quadaffi? How many people are on the sex offenders list who shouldn’t be there?

    The question is, is the cost of a few obese children worth the price of the collateral damage that will be caused with government intervention?

    My answer is no, absolutely not.

  29. #29 |  Steve Verdon | 

    Taking a child from his/her parents is very extreme, but when you have a child that weighs several hundred pounds then there is something very wrong.

    From one of Radley’s links,

    Jerri Gray, a Greenville, S.C., single mother who lost custody of her 555-pound 14-year-old son two years ago, said authorities don’t understand the challenges families may face in trying to control their kids’ weight.

    “I was always working two jobs so we wouldn’t end up living in ghettos,” Gray said. She said she often didn’t have time to cook, so she would buy her son fast food. She said she asked doctors for help for her son’s big appetite but was accused of neglect.

    Okay, but what about apples? They keep for a fairly long time and aren’t expensive. How about other fruits? Why not buy canned vegetables? He is old enough to know how to work a can opener and a microwave? There was a nutritionist who lost weight eating things like Little Debbie snacks and canned vegetables and fruits and even things like his blood work got better.

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/11/08/twinkie.diet.professor/index.html

    The kid was 14 years old. He is old enough to understand he is f*cking enormous, that it is a serious health risk, and that he needs to change his behavior (don’t eat past 5 or 6pm, go for a walk every day, stop sucking down 5,000 calories a day you aren’t Michael Phelps, eat a freaking apple vs. the apple turnover from McD’s, etc.). Mom should have sat down and talked to him. Yeah, making ends meet is important, but to the point that you are going to let your child die earlier than he otherwise would?

    Keep in mind that the cases they are talking about aren’t just obese, but some of the most extreme cases of obesity….to the point where children’s lives are quite in danger.

    Mattocracy,

    Removing an obese child from his/her comfort zone isn’t going to make him/her want to lose weight. It’s just going to psychologically fuck them up more, possibly making them eat more and cause greater depression. This isn’t a solution, this is throwing gas on the fire.

    The empirical evidence contradicts you. Yeah, there is obviously issues with removing the children, but in the cases it does happen the children have lost weight.

  30. #30 |  Danny | 

    Mattocracy #28 is making a bad analogy, because we may oppose the death penalty due to wrongful convictions, but nobody says we should legalize murder or rape or even shoplifting because of wrongful convictions.

    Saying that society should abandon children to parents who are stacking them with 200 or 250 pounds of excess body weight because of the occasional DYS horror story is like arguing to legalize car theft because of the risk of high-speed vehicle pursuits.

  31. #31 |  Highway | 

    I’m on the ‘horrified at the government overreach’ part of this.

    Lots of parents do lots of things that can permanently disfigure their children. Let them play sports. Let them climb trees. Drive them in the car. Singling out obesity, a situation where parents are OVERPROVIDING for their children, is just the current vogue, a nice easy target for persecution.

    If a parent is shoving food down a kid’s throat like a goose for pate? That’s abuse. But that’s not what folks are talking about. Providing food, no matter what it is, and the kid eating too much may be a failure to provide optimal parenting, but it’s not abuse, and it pales in comparison to even the most benign possible situation under state protective care (extreme disruption is just the beginning).

    It’s possible to be a healthy weight if all you eat is McDonalds. It’s possible to be a healthy weight if all you eat is vegetables. Taking part of Steve Verdon’s post: Most of these kids know what they should be doing. A 8 or 10-year old is getting constantly bombarded with messages about healthy eating, exercise, and weight. I know that libertarians have a rough time with how to deal with children (are they able to consent, are they able to know for themselves and make informed choices, are they liable for some crimes), but hanging this entirely on the parents when it’s *not* direct abuse, it’s overproviding, is really troubling.

    So when you take the 300-pound 12 year old away from his parents and charge them with abuse, and put him in foster care, and he doesn’t lose weight because he sneaks food, begs it off friends, still doesn’t exercise, and prefers bagels, do you charge the foster parent with abuse because the kid is still over weight? Do you move them around to hopefully find someone who will *make* them lose weight? And what are you doing to this kid’s psyche when you’re doing this? It’s likely already fragile (because what fat kid isn’t sensitive to this?), and now it’s destroyed his otherwise acceptable family and put him under the control of state thugs.

    How is that a solution? No, a thousand times no.

  32. #32 |  Mattocracy | 

    Danny, you’ve also made a bad anology. I don’t my reasoning is best summed by your example of legalizing theft. Car theft should be illegal, but a high speed persuit shouldn’t be allowed because the dangers to innocent bystanders brought on by the high speed pursuit isn’t worthy of the crime of theft. The cost of the pursuit outweighs the cost of the theft.

    That’s my arguement. The cost of intervening is greater than the cost of not intervening.

  33. #33 |  Jerri Lynn Ward | 

    This is an example of people who believe in salvation by government. It is really rich that these academics think that CPS can save children from obesity in light of what happened with the FLDS children in Texas three year ago. The mostly overweight CPS workers did everything they could to disrupt the healthy eating habits of the FLDS children by making only processed food and junk food available to them. Many of the children ended up sick as a result.

  34. #34 |  Steve Verdon | 

    Jerri Lynn Ward,

    As I’ve pointed out to Mattocracy, the empirical evidence is against you. These kids (the morbidly obese ones) have lost weight. Their health has improved.

    Highway,

    If a parent is shoving food down a kid’s throat like a goose for pate? That’s abuse. But that’s not what folks are talking about. Providing food, no matter what it is, and the kid eating too much may be a failure to provide optimal parenting, but it’s not abuse, and it pales in comparison to even the most benign possible situation under state protective care (extreme disruption is just the beginning).

    When a parent lets a child reach a weight of 555 pounds at age 14 that is abuse. It is a failure to provide a healthy structured environment for the child. Does it necessitate removing the child? I’d like to think there is a less draconian option, but turning a blind eye to the neglect strikes me as a poor option as well.

  35. #35 |  Steve Verdon | 

    For the third time…

    …all of you who are insisting this does not work in reducing weight, the empirical evidence is against you. These kids are losing weight.

  36. #36 |  Steve Verdon | 

    For the fourth time…

    …all of you who are insisting this does not work in reducing weight, the empirical evidence is against you. These kids are losing weight.

  37. #37 |  Mattocracy | 

    Good for these kids for losing weight. Still doesn’t justify intervention.

    The people of Iraq are freer now than they were under Saddam. Doesn’t justify our invasion.

  38. #38 |  MassHole | 

    A lot of these obesity issues can be traced back to the parents being brutally ignorant of even the most basic tenants of nutrition along with psychological problems. People get addicted to food and use it as an escape just like drugs and alcohol. While it sounds ridiculous to us, there are people out there like the above mentioned example that don’t realize fast food every day is bad for you. You don’t frequently see morbidly obese kids with skinny parents. Removal from the home should only be in cases where the kid is being physically abused or dangerously neglected. Sending in social workers to educate the family and psychologists to help the kid and family work through their food issues should be the only intervention by the state. Hell, delivering fruits and veggies and monitoring their consumption would work better and be cheaper than removing the kid from a loving, but fat inducing home.

  39. #39 |  Steve Verdon | 

    The people of Iraq are freer now than they were under Saddam. Doesn’t justify our invasion.

    Nice false analogy.

    Nobody is suggesting a nationwide seizure of kids who are even slightly obese.

    Masshole,

    I agree, I think this rises to the level of neglect, but not removal, not by a long shot. A more measured response is called for.

  40. #40 |  Highway | 

    Sorry Steve, these ends don’t justify these means. It’s empirically true that when you lop someone’s arms off they lose weight, too.

    Maybe education is a huge part of it (although I find it so, so difficult to understand how someone can be that ignorant), but if it is then maybe something is justified to help educate folks. But not removing children from families as if they were abusers.

  41. #41 |  BoscoH | 

    You either find this self-evidently horrifying, or you don’t.

    We hold these facts to be self-evident:
    That all fat kids should be using Equal.

    There, I fixed it.

  42. #42 |  Mattocracy | 

    “Nobody is suggesting a nationwide seizure of kids who are even slightly obese.”

    Not yet…but mission creep is part of the collateral damage the gov’t engages in. For example, see…well, everything that it does.

  43. #43 |  Cyto | 

    This kid’s mom had him wear a “do not feed” sign around his neck to combat obesity. Do you think such efforts would keep the gestapo away, or would they still snatch your younguns?

  44. #44 |  Cyto | 

    Sorry, sugarfree taught me HTML. Try this link instead.

  45. #45 |  Michael Chaney | 

    “Nobody is suggesting a nationwide seizure of kids who are even slightly obese.”

    Yet.

  46. #46 |  Michael Chaney | 

    By the way, those of you claiming that the “kids won’t lose weight” – watch the video I linked in #12. She lost 320lbs. at 8 years old without surgery or any of that. (She did have to have 20lbs. of excess skin removed, and might need surgery to fix her legs.) Please at least be informed when making an argument.

    By the way, the intervention in her case included educating the parent and such. Ultimately, that’s the way to go.

  47. #47 |  Highway | 

    Cyto, that’s probably prima facie evidence of ‘abuse’, and warrants youngin snatchin’.

  48. #48 |  Highway | 

    Michael Chaney, I wasn’t claiming that nobody would lose weight. I was wondering what the consequences would be if the kid *didn’t* lose weight.

  49. #49 |  MassHole | 

    Highway says: “Maybe education is a huge part of it (although I find it so, so difficult to understand how someone can be that ignorant), but if it is then maybe something is justified to help educate folks.”

    It never ceases to amaze me how ignorant some people are. I would say we’re a pretty well educated and worldly group that comment here. So it’s tough to get a handle on people being ignorant of things we take as common knowledge. We have a family friend that did early childhood intervention in a rural area of SC. She had one client who’s house was filthy and filled with roaches. She had to explain to the mother about putting food away and cleaning up the counters and floors. Things like that make me thankful I was fortunate enough to have capable, loving parents.

  50. #50 |  Steve Verdon | 

    Highway,

    I was more concerned with your inability to grasp the empirical facts, vs. justifying anything. Ignoring or even contradicting facts does absolutely nothing to help your case, in fact it makes you look like the worst kind of dogmatist.

    Mattocracy,

    Not yet…but mission creep is part of the collateral damage the gov’t engages in. For example, see…well, everything that it does.

    Right, which is why we execute people for jay walking now.

  51. #51 |  Highway | 

    Steve, I can certainly see how it would be effective for some people. And perhaps it’s even been 100% effective so far. But when any program is expanded beyond a few corner cases, there will be a reduction in success rate.

    What I was trying to get at is this question: If we are blaming the parents for the child being overweight, to the point where they are removed from their custody and care, what would then happen if one of the children removed didn’t lose weight. Would there be any vindication of the parents? Would there be blame and punishment for the foster parents? Would there be further transference of the child through different foster parents until they *did* lose weight?

    My concern is that you’re setting up a lot of people to have their lives negatively altered by the actions of a teenager.

  52. #52 |  Big A | 

    Sounds like there are lots of people who actually think this isn’t a completely unreasonable idea. If this issue is of such personal concern, why not take action yourselves? Someone earlier suggested that delivering veggie baskets would be a far less intrusive, far less expensive option to combat the problem. If you agree with the government intervention, why not start up a local organization in which members volunteer $50, ask fat families around the neighborhood if they wanna participate, and deliver some fruits and veggies to those who do? Or gather some people and put in a community garden. “By the people” means that if you see something you want done, rather than legislating a bunch of other people to do it for you, just go freakin’ do it yourself. All action does not have to be taken by the government.

  53. #53 |  John Jenkins | 

    @Steve Verdon: Cherry-picking the most extreme examples to make your case is all well and good, and it might support medical intervention in extreme cases, but that doesn’t support the general case, nor does it say anything about line drawing. No one is denying empirical evidence, because no one is presenting enough evidence from which to draw a conclusion (a few anecdotes regarding extreme outliers don’t really buttress the case, a point I was trying to make in my comment above). None of the “data” being cited is reliable for decision-making purposes. These are editorials and commentaries from doctors, not rigorous studies of anything.

    I can find anecdotes where people lost weight eating nothing but Subway and McDonald’s. You can’t deny that. Does that mean it’s generally a good idea? I don’t think so, and I doubt you do, either.

    Then there are the open issues: Who would make the decisions? What would the diagnostic criteria be? What due process rights would attach? Would the parents be entitled to representation? Would the child have a guardian ad litem representing the child’s interests? To what extent would the child’s wishes be taken into account? Does anyone have a right to be fat and happy versus less fat and unhappy? Why does the state get to make that call?

    In High School I was 6’2″ tall and 230# and the BMI tables say I was obese. You’ll have to take my word for it that I wasn’t what anyone would describe as obese, but should I have been taken from my parents because some tedious government functionary thought my BMI should be lower?

    Finally, as a general policy prescription, this seems unnecessary. If a minor’s weight is truly life-threatening, then child protective services already have the tools available (including foster care) to help children out. Some number that can easily be applied in the field would only take judgment out of the equation and result in unjust outcomes (see, e.g., zero tolerance policies). I don’t see how a broadening of the processes that currently exist (with broad due process rights, and protections for the rights of the child) is necessary or justified.

  54. #54 |  2nd of 3 | 

    “You either find this self-evidently horrifying, or you don’t.”

    I don’t.

  55. #55 |  B | 

    #22 I was referring to extreme absolute poverty and starvation. Not the relative poverty of lower class Americans. Yes I’m aware obesity and low income are correlated in the US. But obesity is also common among the middle class.

    Malnutrition causes much more revulsion because it is exclusively a problem of the extremely poor (Africa, India, etc). We hear campaigns all the time that nobody in America should have to go hungry.

  56. #56 |  Chris in AL | 

    The really scary part to me is that so much of this kind of thing does not start with the government. It starts with common US civilian. The kind who says they love America, have a bar-b-q and fireworks on the 4th of July, fly the flag from their doorway on Memorial day.

    When they are the ones suggesting the government should steal people’s kids or make moronic laws named after dead babies, or take away constitutional protections ‘to protect the children’ or so ‘the terrorists don’t win’ why shouldn’t the government jump at that. They don’t have to claim more powers for themselves if people are actually asking them to take it. Hell, when the government knows they already having the backing of some people when they do this crap how can they not jump at the chance?

    People are just too stupid to realize that the government they inflict on other people now will someday be turned on them, when one of their bad habits falls out of favor.

    And anybody who thinks that these kids would be better off with the state knows absolutely nothing about the overcrowded, under-manned, under funded, massive cluster fuck that is the foster care system.

    Of course, if they are going to force unhealthy parents to give up their kids, I guess they can just force athletic ones to raise them. It is, after all, for the children.

  57. #57 |  Mattocracy | 

    “Right, which is why we execute people for jay walking now.”

    But we do arrest grandma’s for buying too much pseudoephedrine. Ya know, for the children.

    http://reason.com/blog/2009/09/28/hoosier-grandmother-arrested-f

    I get where you’re coming from. A kid’s lifestyle is largely influenced by their parents. Allowing your kids to get obese is shitty parenting and that kid has done nothing to deserve it. But an obese child doesn’t justify the inevitable abuse of authority a government agency will engage in.

    I don’t understand why you’re dismissing the inevitability of government over reach here. This is a legitimate concern given the horrible track record our government has with overstepping it’s bounds when trying to help or protect us.

  58. #58 |  David M. Nieporent | 

    “Public health academics are now seriously suggesting that the government take obese children away from their parents. I’m not sure there’s really much debate to be had here.”

    Well, there’s one thing to debate: what to call these people. Please don’t buy into their misappropriation of the term “public health,” when what they mean is private health.

  59. #59 |  JThompson | 

    Whether I find it horrifying or not depends on what the cutoff is. Are we talking clear cases of abuse/neglect? Like a preteen that weighs twice what an adult is supposed to weigh abuse/neglect?

    Or are we talking about kids that are slightly above what the ridiculous BMI scale says they should weigh?

    Those are drastically different situations.

    If we use the “creep” excuse to never make endangerment and neglect laws there wouldn’t BE any endangerment or neglect laws. The answer isn’t “Less laws!”. The answer is adding laws that are pointed at the people enforcing the other laws, and strictly enforcing them.

  60. #60 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    B,

    For me, it’s a matter of timing. If we weren’t in the middle of a hysterical panic over obesity, I would be more inclined to consider this. unfortunately, we ARE in the middle of such a panic, and I am inclined to be dubious of anything that seems to be connected.

    Let me see if I can put across my point of view here…

    We have supposedly sane people wringing their hands because, after a few millennia of human history in which famine was so common that it was one of the Four Horsemen, we have created a society in which (according to the alarmists, anyway) the most common dietary problem is gaining too much weight.

    If I believed it, and thought that the rest of humanity would follow suit, I’d be dancing in the streets.

  61. #61 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    If parents refuse to acknowledge the problem, then yes. But, bluntly, most cases can be solved with educating the parents, and if necessary getting a little help to the parents to allow them to buy more healthy food.

    Of course you need to take things on a case by case basis – if a kid’s BMI is simply slightly high, then the appropriate action is giving the parents a leaflet on child nutrition. It’s cheap and surprisingly effective.

  62. #62 |  Marty | 

    it’d be interesting what would happen if corn subsidies stopped and how that changed the food market- people keep advocating for the govt to fix obesity, but some of the policies they push cause obesity.

  63. #63 |  Marty | 

    another interesting tidbit is that a high percentage of obese people have been sexually molested at a young age- they become obese to keep people from touching them. at least this is what a local sex abuse counselor told me…

  64. #64 |  Steve Verdon | 

    John Jenkins,

    @Steve Verdon: Cherry-picking the most extreme examples to make your case is all well and good, and it might support medical intervention in extreme cases, but that doesn’t support the general case, nor does it say anything about line drawing.

    Cherry picking? Nobody here is talking about taking all obese children from their families. The discussion (here) is on those kids who are extremely obese. So obese their health is seriously at risk.

    Maybe there is a slippery slope here, but right now that is not what is happening. The cases where this has happened are the extreme examples. So no cherry picking.

    No one is denying empirical evidence….

    Yes they were. See Jerri Lynn Ward’s comments as well as those by Mattocracy and Highway (comments #s 17, 31 and 33).

    In High School I was 6’2″ tall and 230# and the BMI tables say I was obese.

    Nobody is suggesting using just the BMI tables. The cases where intervention and removal has happened is where not only were the kids fat according to BMI but by any other rational standard. When a 12 year old has issues with sleep apnea or trouble breathing it is more than just looking at the BMI.

    ….but should I have been taken from my parents because some tedious government functionary thought my BMI should be lower?

    That was stupid. Nobody has made any such recommendation. Knocking down a strawman is fun, but serves little purpose.

    Mattocracy,

    I don’t understand why you’re dismissing the inevitability of government over reach here.

    Because the government doesn’t always over reach. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. If your argument is

    JThompson,

    Whether I find it horrifying or not depends on what the cutoff is. Are we talking clear cases of abuse/neglect? Like a preteen that weighs twice what an adult is supposed to weigh abuse/neglect?

    Yes, we are talking about 12 year olds that weigh 400 pounds and 14 year olds who weigh 555 pounds (he is approaching 3x even for some of the bigger adults).

    We aren’t talking about a kid who is a bit over-weight. We aren’t talking about a kid who is even obese. We are talking about the extreme cases where if things continue the life of the child is in serious jeopardy.

    And removal, I think, is too extreme. An intervention is almost surely required, but one where the family is left intact would be the best course. I don’t think many are defending removal except maybe in the most extreme of extreme cases.

    C. S. P. Schofield,

    For me, it’s a matter of timing. If we weren’t in the middle of a hysterical panic over obesity, I would be more inclined to consider this. unfortunately, we ARE in the middle of such a panic, and I am inclined to be dubious of anything that seems to be connected.

    While I agree the hyperventilating over obesity is nauseating, pointing to a 400 pound 12 year old who is developing a host of weight related health issues (sleep apnea, diabetes, cholesterol problems, etc.) is not hysterical panic. If you found a loved one ballooning up to 3x or 4x a their normal weight and expressed concern and I said, “Stop being a hysterical twit,” you’d be right to consider me a jerk.

    The problem here isn’t just simply obesity.

  65. #65 |  theotherjimmyolson | 

    Mattocracy, I find your assertions incredible and without merit.If you can’t respond to and refute the phrase, “that’s why we execute Jay walkers now” you have nothing of value to add.

  66. #66 |  Zeb | 

    Kids don’t end up weighing 400 lbs just because of what their parents feed them. If a child is morbidly obese, there is some other problem besides diet.

  67. #67 |  Highway | 

    Steve, I take exception to your continued misrepresentation of my argument. I have *not* denied any empirical evidence. See my comment at #48. Unless you are hereby asserting that every child would definitely lose weight in every situation of intervention, and I don’t see how that can be known.

  68. #68 |  John Jenkins | 

    @Steve Verdon: If you admit to the possibility of the slippery slope, then when I present a condition that’s along that slope, how is it a straw man or stupid? Now we’re line drawing. Okay, so 30 BMI isn’t your line. Where is it? Who decides? How do we evaluate the determination? I reject the assertion that these are stupid question or that the slippery slope is a straw man argument (or that any point along the slope is a straw man, in the context of that argument).

    You blithely assert that the government won’t overreach here, and your argument for that is that government doesn’t always overreach. Suppose we grant that to be true (I am not sure I would, I think government always expands to the limits it is allowed, like any power would), we have know of a lot of instances where the government does overreach (see, e.g., drug interdiction efforts, eminent domain abuse the child sexual abuse hysteria of the 1990’s, which was entirely fabricated in many instances, police overreach in eliciting false confessions, etc.), which share one of two attributes with this policy (the aforementioned “for the children” and impact on the poor and minorities). So, the question is what differentiates this from other cases where the government does overreach, and I don’t think you’ve addressed that (one possibility is diagnostic criteria, but I think that feeds back into my question regarding the existing apparatus of child protective services, and the question of who makes these determinations).

    You want to be breezy and say of course this is a good idea, but not actually deal with the issues presented by it, which I find troubling (and that’s ignoring the weak ad hominems to which you’ve repeatedly resorted above).

  69. #69 |  TFG | 

    Dr. David Katz obviously had parents who turned him into a tyrannical prick.

    He should have been taken away by the State as a youth which would have prevented this terrible outcome.

  70. #70 |  Vlad | 

    Okay, so 30 BMI isn’t your line. Where is it? Who decides? How do we evaluate the determination?

    Well, let’s look at the eight-year-old girl who was 550 pounds. The video didn’t say how tall she was, but average height for an eight-year-old girl is about 45 inches. Plug that height and weight into a BMI calculator and you get a figure of 190. I think pretty much everybody would agree that a little kid with a BMI of 190 (and a history of respiratory distress) is in significant danger.

    How about a threshold of a BMI of 100? That’s the range you’d have for someone who’s five feet tall and a little over 500 pounds, or four feet tall and about 325, or three feet tall and 185. Is there anyone here who wouldn’t be seriously concerned about a twelve-year-old girl who weighed 500 pounds, or a nine-year-old boy who weighed 325, or a four-year-old who weighed 185 (i.e. as much as a full-grown man)?

  71. #71 |  Vlad | 

    Just for reference, a BMI of 100 is more than triple the level typically described as “obese”.

  72. #72 |  supercat | 

    Allowing parents to do whatever they want to their kids, without limitation, would result in a certain amount of unfortunate mischief, but it would be limited by the fact that many if not most people with children value the well-being and success of their children more than anything else in their lives. The offspring of those who value and care for their children will thrive and take over the world, while the families of those who do not will wither away.

    Allowing government authorities the authority to inject themselves into any families, even those where such intervention would be the only way to prevent serious mischief, creates a very real danger that government authorities will themselves cause harm far beyond anything that would occur from individual parents having their way with their own children.

    Sometimes it may seem cruel and heartless to allow wrongs to go unchecked, but eagerly trying to solve problems one sees without regard for what problems one may create, is the act of a self-righteous person, not a righteous one.

  73. #73 |  Dr. T | 

    The Slippery Slope Is Real:

    We already have a situation where private physicians and local governments (schools) spent two decades redrawing diagnostic lines and classifying more children as diseased. That situation is Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Two generations ago, the prevalence of those conditions combined was under 1%. Current statistics are that 10% of children have been diagnosed with ADD or ADH. Three-fourths of those children are boys, and nearly all the children receive amphetamine-like drugs that supposedly focus their attention. Does anyone believe that we truly had a 10-fold increase in ADD/ADHD in just 40 years? Does anyone believe that in the 1970s we failed to diagnose 9 of 10 children with ADD/ADHD? The schools want passive students. Greedy physicians are happy to classify bored, fidgety kids as mentally ill children in need of continual drugging (and repeated revenue-generated office visits). We are harming 9% of our children due to bad government policies supported by incompetent or evil physicians.

    A parallel situation easily could arise with obesity. Federal government agencies have twice changed the definition of obesity (by switching from weight tables to BMI in the 1980s and changing the BMI cutoffs in the late 1990s). Each change had no scientific basis and put more people into the obese category. If childhood obesity triggered government interventions, then the leeches would emerge: nutritionists, diet counselors, psychologists, child protection workers, pediatricians and family practitioners, etc. would feed off the fat of the kids and would exert continuous pressure to broaden definitions and add more “nutritionally-abnormal” kids to the list of those needing government-mandated and government-funded interventions. Anyone who believes that government interventions would be limited to cases where bad parents have risked the life of their child by inducing morbid obesity is either a fool or a potential leech.

  74. #74 |  Maggie McNeill | 

    Funny how this entire comment thread is synopsized in the last line of Radley’s post.

  75. #75 |  Mattocracy | 

    @ theotherjimmyolson,

    I think I refuted the execution of jaywalkers pretty well personally. We may not execute jaywalkers, but we do a lot of draconian shit in the guise of helping or stopping some scurge.

    And my assertions are without merit? Guess you don’t read this site very often. The government always over steps it’s limitations with everything and hurts a lot of innocent people in the process.

  76. #76 |  Mattocracy | 

    I can understanding stepping in to protect a child from physical abuse. We have a natural right not to be physically accosted, and if we are, to have our abuser held accountable. Same thing with sexual assault at any age.

    But I can’t hold someone else accountable for my weight as an adult. Extending that idea to a child and their parents is a very dangerous and slippery slope. Obesity isn’t forced onto people. Unless it’s a response to some other trauma. In which case, you hold people accountable for that, but not the weight.

    If you argue neglect on the part of the parent, where does it stop? How about that kid you got killed and chopped up on his way home in NYC. Are you gonna charge his parents with neglect for letting him walk home alone?

    Some of you might scoff and say “no, that ridiculous.” But some people won’t. And those people are trying to concur the next great plague on man kind for they own personal gain.

    I stand by my comments. There is always collateral damage involving innocent people when government gets involved in these kinds of things. All. Ways. I don’t it’s worth it, even if a kid is several hundred pounds overweight.

  77. #77 |  random_guy | 

    Actually I think a community saving children from criminally negligent parents is one of the few legitimate uses of government.

    Where do we draw the line?
    1) The child must have no diagnosed medical issues regarding their weight (obviously a child with legitimate medical reasons for obesity would not benefit for simply having different parents)
    2) If the child weighs twice the mean for their height and sex, using national statistics, then Child Protective Services begins visitation and counseling.
    3) If the child weighs three times the mean for their height and sex, they are removed from the general care of the parents who would still be allowed contact and visitation.
    4) If the child returns to a safe weight (less than 2X the mean) and the parents demonstrate a better understanding of nutrition and supervising the child’s diet, custody is returned. CSP will continue monitoring the child’s weight and living conditions for a year to see if there is a return to the old habits.

    I don’t think any of the above is unreasonable, no one in their right mind can maintain that a healthy child should weight twice as much as someone their own height and sex. Age would be a poor metric because height among kids can vary so greatly.

    Yeah I understand there is potential for government abuse, just like everything else. You either live in a society that lets idiots slowly kill or cripple their children, or you as a citizen manage the government institutions designed to stop that. There are risks associated with either choice, I accept the one that doesn’t treat children like chattel.

  78. #78 |  Bill | 

    So many issues here it’s hard to decide where to begin. First, many of those advocating state intervention seem to have more faith in medical science as an indicator for when state action is appropriate. Remember that real science is not set in stone. A cause for overweight that may not be apparent today could be discovered tomorrow (see Radley’s posts on Shaken Baby Syndrome to see what happens when changing science is used to establish fixed legal outcomes).

    Second, so many factors enter into one’s weight that even for children, parents may not be the overriding factor, and state intervention can easily make matters worse. Bear in mind that peoples’ well being is not determined solely by a number on a scale, so even if a child is taken from his or her home and their weight moves closer to someone’s ideal, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is better off.

    Even though we’re focusing on overweight kids, consider the eating issues of anorexics or bulemics. Do those who end up dying from the effects of those ailments only succumb to them because the government failed to rescue them from their parents?

    The law is a blunt instrument, and families and childrens’ health are delicate, complicated things.

  79. #79 |  BoogaFrito | 

    Right, which is why we execute people for jay walking now.

    Exactly. Until the jaywalking executions commence, there will be no valid complaints about government mission creep.

  80. #80 |  Chris in AL | 

    You know, as long as we are talking about taking people (in this case kids) from their homes and putting them in the system because they have greater health risks in their homes…

    This study shows that black men live longer in prison and are half as likely to die at any given time if they are in prison rather than out. So the inequitable convictions and sentences of black men is not only not racist, it is for their own good. And clearly, since it is the government’s job to make everybody safer, and black men are safer in prison…

    http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/07/15/black-men-survive-longer-in-prison-than-out-study-finds/?test=latestnews

    /yeah, its Fox.

  81. #81 |  CyniCAl | 

    #77 | random_guy — “Yeah I understand there is potential for government abuse, just like everything else. You either live in a society that lets idiots slowly kill or cripple their children, or you as a citizen manage the government institutions designed to stop that. There are risks associated with either choice, I accept the one that doesn’t treat children like chattel.”

    Much better to treat parents as chattel. Especially innocent parents.

  82. #82 |  Deoxy | 

    Based on the things I have personally seen regarding Child Services, I would only CONSIDER reporting something about a child to Child Services if I actually thought their life was in danger. And I’d have to think about it.

    Yes, that is completely serious. The system is completely and utterly broken. Only a very few lucky individuals manage to make it out of the system without major abuses of some kind (or several kinds).

    400 pound 8YO? well, how tall is the kid… ok, it’s life-threatening, but not immediately so. Seems to have turned out well (so far) for that kid – lucky.

  83. #83 |  Steve Verdon | 

    John Jenkins

    @Steve Verdon: If you admit to the possibility of the slippery slope, then when I present a condition that’s along that slope, how is it a straw man or stupid?

    It is a strawman because nobody anywhere has ever advocated taking an athletic person who is the exception to the BMI as a measure of health away from their family. It is just stupid. If you, as a teen were muscular due to playing sports and in good physical condition and your BMI was indicating you are “obese” then the BMI is wrong. BMI is NOT being suggested as the only measure here.

    Get your facts straight first before wading in. It is a host of medical assessments, but most of us could probably make the same call. These kids are giant jiggling masses of fat, not muscular football players or wrestlers or the likes.

    Okay, so 30 BMI isn’t your line. Where is it?

    Again, it isn’t just the BMI. But consider Vlad’s post where he suggests a BMI of 100. You indicated that in high school you were 6’2″, to have a BMI of 100 you’d have to clock in a whopping 779 pounds. My guess is you’d have trouble getting up, you couldn’t tie your shoes, Hell you probably couldn’t see your feet. You’d probably be short of breath just after standing up. You’d be a freakish sight. With a BMI of 150 you’d weight over half a ton. My guess is you’d be totally bed ridden. Your heart would probably have issue moving blood through your body. You’d probably stink since cleaning you would be nearly impossible. In short you’d be a giant blob of fat, and we wouldn’t be far off the mark calling you Jenkins the Hutt. A BMI of 190 means you’d be close to 1,500 pounds. My guess is that with a BMI that high you’d never reach your current age.

    It isn’t just, calculate the BMI, oh…you’re obese, take the kid away. It would be more along the lines of the kid is morbidly obese, extremely so. Do medical tests. See if there is a medical reason for the extreme weight. If not, and it is poor parenting and the child’s health is in serious jeopardy, then help the family deal with the problem, and no, don’t take the kid unless the parents are completely unwilling to admit there is a problem.

    You want to be breezy and say of course this is a good idea, but not actually deal with the issues presented by it, which I find troubling (and that’s ignoring the weak ad hominems to which you’ve repeatedly resorted above).

    Because, your example was stupid in the extreme. You had a BMI of 30, Vlad has pointed out we are talking about people with BMIs in the three digit range. You weren’t even close to that limit, and if you were muscular and big for your age in part due to playing sports then you’d never even show up on the radar of this kind of a problem.

    Mattocracy,

    Are kids who have a BMI of 100+ being forced? No maybe not, but at the same time it isn’t like they have the same choices as an adult. They can’t demand that their parents provide them with better/healthier food. Help them be active and put them in sports or the like. This is one of those grey areas that many libertarians just blithely say, “Oh, no overt force is involved so therefore no problem.” But the notion that these children have the same ability to choose as an adult is also rather dubious, IMO. An adult with a BMI of 150 does have the ability to make different choices. A child on the other hand often does not…because the parents have been given the power to make those choices.

    When a child has a BMI of 100+ the parent has made very, very poor choices (unless there is a medical condition that results in such extreme weight).

    Now, the first article Radley links to by Dr. Katz is stupid. Giving your kid a soda periodically is not abuse or neglect. Dr. Katz should be professionally bitch slapped for that one, IMO. For example, my son is in amazing physical condition, and every now and then likes a sprite. Typically he goes with orange juice, pineapple juice, water, or 2% milk. Given his overall health and physique a sprite when we eat out or go to a movie is fine.

    Taking kids away who are obese is also stupid and likely to cause more harm than good. Looking at the 0.001% (or whatever miniscule portion or) the child population that has a BMI over 100 is something else altogether. Especially considering that these are children who do not have the same set of choices adults have because you, and I and the rest of society lets parents make many of those choices.

    Deoxy,

    400 pound 8YO? well, how tall is the kid… ok, it’s life-threatening, but not immediately so. Seems to have turned out well (so far) for that kid – lucky.

    To have a BMI of 50 at that weight the person would have to be 75 inches tall (6’3″), a damn tall 8 year old. At that height there would have to be other serious medical issues and taking the kid away would almost surely not help.

  84. #84 |  JOR | 

    “Much better to treat parents as chattel.”

    Interfering in the raising of children is a lot of things, but one thing it is not, is “treating parents like chattel” (to claim otherwise just is to claim that children are chattel).

    The state is just a bunch of people. They’re justified in doing whatever anyone else would be justified in doing. If there are cases where it’s justified to interfere in parenting (and unless you accept the claim that children are chattel, there are), then the state is justified in interfering (proportionately) – for the same reason anyone else would be.

    None of this is to say that the state is likely to use any precedent in favor of its free discretion wisely or justly. But that argument should be played from where it lies, instead of relying on premises that make children into property.

  85. #85 |  random_guy | 

    Thank you JOR,

    I can’t fathom how the idea that parents are free to do whatever they want to kids falls under the banner of “personal freedom” to some people. Children have rights, diminished though they may be, and I think not being killed by the people entrusted to your care is chief among them.

    This isn’t the 1700’s, medical science has advanced quite a bit in terms of what we know works and doesn’t. You can’t pray away pneumonia or cancer. Refusing a life saving surgery for a seven year old because mommy and daddy don’t believe in blood transfusions is fucking monstrous. And pretending that a 400lb eight year old does not need some kind of intervention on their behalf, is callous at best.

    How these issues are resolved within the very human limitations of government policy is an entirely different debate. The fact that lines need to be drawn is not an argument for the elimination of all lines. The idea that parents should have final say in every aspect of child’s life, up to and including killing them, is the moral stance of a slave owner. Not someone who believes in the rights and dignities of other human beings.

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