It's becoming a more and more popular question: Is a child's unhealthy weight grounds for removing him or her from a household? It was enough for county officials to place a Cleveland third grader who weighed 200 pounds into foster care, according to The Plain Dealer.
The Plain Dealer reports that the 8-year-old was taken from school by social workers in October and his mother, who adamantly claims she had been trying to help him lose weight, only sees him for two hours every week. It calls this the first case of a child being taken from a parent over a weight-related issue in Cuyahoga County and it marks a stronger national debate on the topic:
Cuyahoga County does not have a specific policy on dealing with obese children. It removed the boy because case workers considered this mother's inability to get her son's weight down a form of medical neglect, said Mary Louise Madigan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Family Services.
They said that the child's weight gain was caused by his environment and that the mother wasn't following doctor's orders -- which she disputes.
"This child's problem was so severe that we had to take custody," Madigan said. The agency worked with the mother for more than a year before asking Juvenile Court for custody of the child, she said.
Lawyers for the mother, a substitute elementary school teacher who is also taking vocational school classes, think the county has overreached in this case by arguing that medical conditions the boy is at risk for -- but doesn't yet have -- pose an imminent danger to his health.
The Plain Dealer reports that as of right now, the child's only medical problem resulting from excess weigh is sleep apnea and that he has a machine to monitor his breathing each night. In addition to trying to monitor what her son ate, the mother is reported as saying some other family members may have been sneaking him food but she did enroll her son in a local hospital program that offers eduction on proper nutrition.
But that apparently wasn't enough. Still, even Ivy League-educated professors think taking a child away because of weight is an extreme last resort:
Earlier this year, Dr. David Ludwig, Harvard University professor and pediatric obesity expert, urged children's services agencies to intervene in severe cases when parents have failed to address a weight problem that leads to imminent health risks.
Ludwig, the co-author of an article that appeared in the Journal of American Medical Association this summer, said other interventions should be tried first and that children should be removed only as a last resort.
Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics and medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said that before a trend of removing children takes hold, the broader public-policy issue needs to be explored.
"A 218-pound 8-year-old is a time bomb," Caplan acknowledged. "But the government cannot raise these children. A third of kids are fat. We aren't going to move them all to foster care. We can't afford it, and I'm not sure there are enough foster parents to do it. "
He said he is worried that the families with the fewest resources, which are often minorities, will end up being ones with their children removed.
This news report covering Ludwig's editorial in JAMA earlier this year, cites a case -- the first of its kind more than a decade ago -- where a New Mexico toddler was taken from her parents over obesity issues and was later returned after doctors diagnosed her with a disease that causes weight-related issues:
For now, county officials are reported as saying at least temporary removal from the family could help the boy become healthier. But the mother's lawyers are reporting that even the foster mother is showing signs of having trouble keeping up with the boy's many appointments. The lawyers have said that they heard talk of getting the foster mother extra help or perhaps the boy a personal trainer, causing them to wonder why the boy's biological mother wasn't offered such help.
Check out the debate from Fox & Friends:
This article as been updated since its original posting.