Should obese children be placed in foster care?

by Brooke on July 19, 2011

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A recent commentary entitled, “State Intervention in Life-Threatening Childhood Obesity” was printed in the The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).   I was shocked when I read this commentary!  How we go from “oh obesity is a problem” to “holy s***…we need to put children in foster care to protect their health and well-being.”    The article stated that,

Ubiquitous junk food marketing, lack of opportunities for physically active recreation, and other aspects of modern society promote unhealthful lifestyles in children. Inadequate or unskilled parental supervision can leave children vulnerable to these obesigenic environmental influences.”

I do understand that parents need to be good role models for their children and teach them how to live a healthy lifestyle; but shouldn’t education be the first step?  Is it really fair to say that these parents are neglecting their children? 

Federal law, which establishes a minimum standard for states, defines child abuse and neglect as “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm . . . or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”

It is scary that the number of children affected with childhood obesity continues to increase.  Below is a map of the 2007 Rates of Overweight and Obese Children


The argument given in the article for placing these children in foster care was that it would be a healthier alternative than having them placed in pediatric surgical weight loss programs.

At this point, I don’t know what is the right solution! I can tell you that parents have  said to me, “we did this” during nutrition counseling sessions and mentioned that they wanted to change for their children and help them live a healthier lifestyles.  Because of these moments, I believe we should let parents try to make positive behavior changes before splitting up their families. 

What do you think?  Should obese children be placed in foster care?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauren July 19, 2011 at 11:23 am

Foster care has to be a last resort but parents are responsible. We would be outraged if parents let kids smoke or smoked constantly around them. We would be outraged if we saw parents hitting a child. When children are obese, possibly diabetic or on their way to an early death parents need more than a handout and advice. I’m not saying “more” means to lose their kids.


Summer July 19, 2011 at 1:21 pm

The peeps making these “recommendations” need to do their homework again. There are plenty of unhealthy kids in the foster system already. It just sounds like moving one mess to a bigger mess in hopes it cleans it self up… bad idea. Try again.


Felisa July 19, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Wow. Great post, and question! This is so tough because we know that obesity is a BIG problem (no pun intended) but the parents of the obese kids probably don’t understand how much they are affecting their child’s life. We can’t force people to change-the parents you have in your counseling sessions are strong for being able to admit their faults (true of any person) and more rare than they should be. We somehow have to get people to learn to care more, and see how important it is to eat healthy. The people who need this information most are likely not the people already reading your blog or other sources of important information, so maybe the answer isn’t taking the kids from the parents, but an “information intervention.”


Melanie July 19, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I think this idea crosses into an area that we really shouldn’t step into. The foster care system itself is already over loaded in many areas and especially in urban comunities the care isn’t as good as some would like to think it is. My fear is that this would open a door to all sorts of new and crazy interpretations of what makes a parent unfit, which could have some potentially nasty outcomes.


Jenn July 19, 2011 at 7:19 pm

I think that the foster care system is a poor solution to this problem. There are so many cases of children receiving inadequate care or suffering abuse already. Who is to say that eating/diet would not become a coping mechanism for youngsters trying to cope with the trauma of being removed from their homes? I think the broader solution is to help parents be knowledgeable about, and be able to afford, healthy options for their kids.


Brett July 19, 2011 at 10:15 pm

This is ridiculous. I don’t even know where to start. There is no proof that a child’s health would improve in the foster care system. And let’s not kid ourselves, who’s going to pay to put 20-35% of kids in each state into foster care? Declining health in children is a complex issue. You have social, political, economical issues to deal with, education, access to healthy food, access to physical activity opportunities as well. How is dumping them into a foster home going to solve all these issues? I hate to sound like a right-winger here, but we don’t want the government telling us how to raise our children, nor the government raising our children. At the same time, while education is an issue for parenting, it’s not the entire issue. Budgets & Time is tight for many families to buy and prepare healthy meals. Schools are cutting recess and P.E. to save money. Our culture has been taught by the media to hate fruits and vegetables which is evident when you watch advertisements for food products, you hear a lot about how there are vegetables HIDDEN in their food. Like its a bad thing.


Kristen @ Swanky Dietitian July 20, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Great post! I work with this population and honestly, there are times when I question how these people can neglect their chidren in such a way. Some parents don’t even seem shocked at how they let their children get to that point. But at the same time, this might be a bit extreme. Yes, drastic changes need to be made, and hopefully we will take a step in the right direction.


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