Scottish Courts Briefly Take Obese Mother's Newborn Child

Indeed, medical and psychological experts say childhood obesity alone is too complicated a problem to pronounce it as a form of neglect or abuse by itself.

"There are a lot of gray terms in there: is spanking your child abuse? Beating them is an abuse. Is sending your child to bed without dinner abuse? Withholding food is," said Dr. Richard Pesikoff an adult and child psychiatrist with Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, Texas.

Pesikoff said situations where children are morbidly obese may easily fall into similar gray areas of parenting across the country. And while it might be tempted to use the degree of obesity as a yardstick for measuring parental neglect or abuse, in Pesikoff's experience he said it isn't always a great measure of parental control.

For instance, Pesikoff treated a boy named "John," a pseudonym for privacy reasons, who was 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 450 pounds by age 14.

"Even if you tried to stop him from eating, he'd just push his mother off, push her away and go to the refrigerator," said Pesikoff.

Pesikoff said he doubted courts could "say that we know the etiology of obesity so well that we could point the finger and say you [the parent] are doing this to this kid."

Parent-Child Attachment Most Important

Pesikoff also points out that the parent-child attachment is so important, that he would recommend removing a child from the home only in the case where parents are putting the child in immediate physical danger because of their obesity.

Yet, despite the risky health conditions, such as heart disease, that are associated with obesity, those who treat childhood obesity rarely come across cases what would constitute an emergency removal of the child.

Is Health Risk From Obesity an Emergency?

"First of all, you do have to work out if there are genetic syndromes -- they are rare -- and they don't run in families like this," said Keith-Thomas Ayoob, an associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

"This may be a case where the expression of a problem is nutritional, but the problem may be rooted in a mental issue," said Ayoob.

Apart from mental issues such as eating disorders, Ayoob says he works with people who simply have parenting issues.

"And if there are parenting issues, these kids aren't in any immediate emergency danger," he said.

Instead of an immediate removal, Ayoob said he prefers to work with families over a period of time.

"Healthy eating is a family issue if the parents are both overweight," said Ayoob. "Removing them is not going to address those eating habits."

Dr. Marc S. Jacobson, of the obesity leadership work group of the American Academy of Pediatrics, also points out that childhood obesity isn't always a matter of mental health, or poor parenting.

"There's clear evidence that the food industry -- fast food restaurants, vending machines, sweetened cereals -- influences childhood obesity," said Jacobson.

"I can't say which is relatively greater in influence, but they certainly are important," he said. "The more fast food restaurants in a community, the more likely the kids are to be obese."

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