AMA Journal suggests government take custody of obese children

Overburdened governments should not be required to remove obese children from parents' home. Photo: Associated Press
Photo caption: In a July 11, 2011 photo, Stormy Bradley, left, and her daughter Maya, 14, are seen, in Atlanta. Maya is part of an anti-obesity ad campaign in Georgia. A provocative article in a prominent medical journal argues that parents of extremely obese should lose custody because they can’t control their kids’ weight in the most extreme cases. Bradley’s daughter isn’t at risk, but Bradley sympathizes with parents struggling to control their kids’ weight. (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON, DC, July 20, 2011 — Controversy erupted this week over the article State Intervention in Life-Threatening Childhood Obesity published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The article, written by Harvard childhood obesity expert David Ludwig, MD, PhD and Lindsey Murtagh, JD, MPH, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health, suggests that the government intervene and take over custody of obese children.  

We are not talking children who are a bit chubby, but those that register as extremely obese, such as 14 year old, 555 lb. Alexander Drape.

14-year-old Alexander Drape was 555 lbs when he was taken away from his mom Jerri Gray in 2009.

In a recent ABC News, childhood obesity expert Dr. David Ludwig said childhood obesity is abuse and requires government intervention.

“State intervention may serve the best interests of many children with life-threatening obesity, comprising the only realistic way to control harmful behavior,” Dr. Ludwig wrote. “In severe instances of childhood obesity, removal from the home may be justifiable, from a legal standpoint because of imminent health risks and the parents’ chronic failure to address medical problems.”

Ludwig has a right to be concerned.  Close to 2 million American children are obese.  Obesity in children can lead to Type 2 diabetes, breathing difficulties and liver problems.  A child that suffers with obesity can have a shorter life than children of average weight.

Ludwig said the government should provide parent training and take the children out of the parents’ homes only in extreme cases. 

That is what happened two-years ago when a single South Carolina mother, Jerri Gray, a Greenville, S.C., lost custody of her 555-pound 14-year-old son.  Alexander Draper, 14, was placed into foster care after his mother, Jerri Gray, was arrested and charged with criminal neglect in June 2009.

Around that time, a pediatric journal published a similar story that discussed a 440-pound 16-year old girl who was hospitalized because of her excessive weight.

Regulations require health practictioners to alert authorities if a child arrives at the hospital with high-risk factors due to weight issues.  Severe obesity caused by parents who will not intervene to curb their children’s eating, provide them healthier options or force them to exercise is included in the high risk category.

University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Art Caplan told Yahoo news that that parents should not bear the brunt of all the blame, but instead more criticism should be placed on advertising, marketing, peer pressure and bullying which are all out of a parent’s control.

“If you’re going to change a child’s weight, you’re going to have to change all of them,” Caplan said. 

Caplan is on to something because irrespective of how much parental training or government intervention goes into saving children from obesity, there are other factors beyond government control.

Our national diet is one place to look. The foods most affordable and the easiest to serve are also the most fattening and harmful foods. Individuals living at lower income levels may opt for inexpensive bag of chips over spending $3.00 for a bag of apples.

“It’s easy to put all the blame on parents for the obesity epidemic, but we have to realize that in some low income neighborhoods, access to affordable healthy foods and safe outdoor activities are non-existent”, said Dr. Rhonique Harris, a community pediatrician at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington DC. “We have to look at interagency approach at addressing the problem from all angles; home, school, place of worship, doctors office, daycare, WIC, TANF, public housing, neighborhood supermarkets and media, to name a few.”

Also, there are other factors in play that have to be considered. Parents who are also obese due to poor eating choices, genetics and unsafe neighborhoods where children can no longer be told to “go outside and play.”

Further, Ludwig’s recommendations are coming at a time when state budgets are already stretched thin and many states are facing record shortfalls. A debt crisis looms, and necessary programs, like Social Security and Veterans benefits are being threatened. 

What’s best for the children is important but at the end of the day, the burden rests on parents to step up and have the courage to take control of their kids’ out of control eating, set limits and get them exercising.  

A lot can be done for the family when dinner is finished not with cheap, high caloric desserts, but a brisk walk instead.

“Taking away parental rights is not addressing the source of the problems,” Dr. Harris added. “It takes a community not a goverment entity to raise a child.”

Read more Politics of Raising Children in The Communities at the Washington Times. Follow Jeneba Ghatt at @JenebaSpeaks. Her work can also be read at JenebaSpeaksBlackWeb 2.0 and Politic365.  She also co-hosts a Blog Talk Radio show called Right of Black which tackles current events and politics from a perspective not often seen in the mainstream media.

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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site while authoring her own influential blog which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

Contact Jeneba Ghatt


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