Doctors question effectiveness, morality of taking an obese 8-year-old out of his home
An 8-year-old Ohio boy was taken from his parents and his home because he's overweight. He weighs nearly 200 pounds when a typical third grader weighs 60 pounds. Now the state has put him in foster care, but many are wondering if it's going to help — and if it's even right.
In Cleveland, an 8-year-old was removed from his home on the grounds that his severe obesity was the fault of his parents.
The boy weighed over 200 pounds, while the average weight of an 8-year-old boy is about 60 pounds.
The question isn't whether the boy was overweight, or whether his family could have done more in the 20 months after they were notified his weight was a serious problem and that the state was evaluating their care. The question is whether foster care is the best way to solve extreme obesity in children.
Dr. Art Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, said he doesn't think the state really has the right to take these children out of their homes and away from their parents. The standard, he said, is imminent harm and this doesn't meet that.
"And the moving into the broken foster care system, and think that's really going to be a solution, I really amy skeptical that's going to get us where we need to go," Caplan said. "What we really need is an intervention in the home."
Dr. Joan Kinlan, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, said this is an indeed a very unusual turn of events and distinctly different from when children are removed from their homes because of malnourishment.
"With malnourishment, and a kid is severely underweight, the kid can die," she said.
Caplan said he's already hearing that the foster mom is having problems of her own dealing with all the appointments that the over-weight 8-year-old has, in order to keep his weight under control.
"If you're going to take this child out (of the home), how long do we propose to do this for," Caplan said. "If the problem is in the home, or there's emotional turmoil...he's going back home at some point and if that's not fixed, I don't see what the foster care option is going to do in the long-run."
Kinlan said that, in fact, there's no evidence that removing the child from his home will help him better control his weight. Rather, she said, research indicates that approaches that try to get the whole family involved show the best odds of success.
"The focus is on health. Everyone is looking at eating healthy foods and exercising at least one hour a day," Kinlan said.
Caplan agrees. The focus has to be on the family, he said. But he said there's also blame on schools, and the food that's served there.
"If we're going to work on this, we have to make the intervention in the home," he said.
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