A couple of weeks ago, Dr. David Ludwig of Harvard Univerity suggested that morbidly obese children be removed from their parents custody because allowing these children to reach the sizes that they had was tantamount to child abuse. I’m going to let that sink in for a minute. Removal of a child from his or her own home because he or she is obese.
I have to admit, I initially had mixed feelings on this subject.
The undeniable truth is that this country has a weight problem. When 2/3 of the population is overweight and 1/3 is obese, there is no arguing that. I know there are “sticks-in-the-mud” out there that insist that nobody can tell them what to do or what to eat, but I can’t help but use an Palin-ism (God help me!) and think out loud, “how’s that working out for ya?”
We are squarely on the path toward a population that will suffer from higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, kidney failure, strokes and other weight related diseases all because we have this attitude of “You Can’t Tell Me What To Do!!!” And you know what? I hear that. No one likes to be talked down to. It’s not fun.
But reality is reality. As simplistic and as dumb as that sounds, I think a lot of America misses that. Want proof? Just go to your local Cineplex this weekend and watch the parade of those in denial walk by. Stylistic preferences aside, you have to wonder, what kind of warped mirror are they looking at, if they are looking at a mirror at all, when they get dressed to go out.
But in all seriousness, have we reached the point where we have to take these children out of their homes and away from their parents? and just what will happen to these kids when they are taken out of their homes? where will they go? will foster parents or the State do a better job of feeding these kids? will they get them motivated to be physically active?
On top of that, what about situations where the weight gain isn’t necessarily food and activity related? 1 in 88 American boys has been diagnosed with autism. Many of those boys will take a variety of drugs to manage anxiety, perseverative behaviors and other symptoms that often come with autism. Some of these drugs, like risperidone, cause very noticeable weight gain. Parents of autistic children must go through the heart-wrenching decision of whether the benefits of such drugs (the far out idea of actually being able to connect with your child) outweighs the side effects. Would the good doctor take these kids away from their homes as well?
A much better and more global solution would be to educate families on what they are actually putting into themselves and into their children. But that knowledge of what is quality nutrition and what is not only goes so far. We as a society have to figure out how to overcome the food deserts that are embarrassingly popping up in this country. How is it that the most powerful nation in the world can’t sustain a big chain grocery store in the proud city of Detroit? How can parents expect to feed their children nutritious meals if they are forced to shop at the local bodega or 7-Eleven. Knowing what to eat is pointless if it isn’t available or affordable.
If you want to argue cost, saying that you don’t want your money (tax dollars) paying for educating how others eat and move or incentivising the revitalization of food deserts, consider this: there is a freight train of diabetics and those riddled with heart disease hurtling our way. When it arrives, there will be a huge cost – who do you think will be paying for the drugs these people need to take? You will. Who do you think will pay for the days that these people just can’t get to work? You will. Who do you think will pay when these people go on long-term disability when they are no longer able to work? You will. One way or another, whether it is through increased health insurance premiums or being asked to work longer and harder at your job, you will pay. After that, when their hearts and bodies give out under the years of overworking, there will be the cost of losing these people to early deaths.
Is all of that still worth eating whatever you want, whenever you want?
But back to Dr. Ludwig. To be fair, he was talking about those children who are on the extreme side of obesity – say a 16 year old kid weighing in at 555 lbs. It is unimaginable to me that I would ever let either one of my daughters reach any where near that weight, BUT I also have relatively easy access to nutritious foods, incredible doctors and space to run and play. Would I judge a parent in my community if they let their child reach those numbers? Yeah, probably. Would I take that child away from his or her home? I don’t know. If the parents were good friends, I would hope I would have the courage to advise them to seek help.
But what about communities where nutrition and play space may not be so readily available? some that are not so far from where I live? I think that is part of the problem with Dr. Ludwig’s suggestion – it doesn’t take into account the vast societal differences one can encounter simply moving from one neighborhood to another.
What’s the answer then? I don’t know. If I did, I’d be running for mayor and implementing a plan. In the meantime, I can only encourage people to remain active (and to lead by example for the sake of their children) and be aware of what they put in their mouths.