Food for Thought

Written by: Lianne Castelino

Published: Jul 16, 2011

Do it.  Do it. Do it.  No further analysis required.  Why did anyone think of it sooner.

The suggestion by Harvard University child obesity expert Dr. David Ludwig, that parents of severely obese children should be made to lose custody of their children has unleashed plenty of outrage.

In an open editorial that ran in the Journal of American Medical Association earlier this week, Dr. Ludwig co-wrote with Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health, that:  “In severe instances of childhood obesity, removal from the home may be justifiable, from a legal standpoint, because of imminent health risks and the parents’ chronic failure to address medical problems.”

On the surface, this strategy makes perfect sense to me.

Of course there are no absolute guarantees that an extremely obese child may receive optimal care if a ward of the state or if in foster care, but is status quo better?

Dr. Ludwig rationale calls for state intervention only in the most extreme cases.  He says it should be used as a last resort after counselling and education of the parents has been undertaken.

With two million obese children in the United States of America, many of them morbidly obese, many of them genetically pre-disposed, others the product of poor diet and lack of exercise — the writing is on the wall.  Something must be done.

With governments around the world bracing for skyrocketing rates in diabetes and other diseases induced by poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles, the alarm has long been sounded, but it appears to still be falling on many deaf ears.

The one aspect of this growing crisis that does not seem to get much credit is the proactive approach — specifically, educating new and expectant parents about how to feed their babies.  Parents, after all, are the architects of their children’s eating habits — are they not?

Eating for a couple is profoundly different than preparing a meal for a baby or making food for a family.  What works for one, for the most part does not work for the others.

The road to starting a baby on solid foods should start with educating parents about just how important their role in meal preparation is.  It should include information on understanding when a baby is hungry, when a baby is satiated, how to understand a child’s hunger cues.  Many parents equate crying with hunger in a baby.  That can be the beginning of several wrong turns parents can make on their child’s nutrition journey.

While social and economic status may exacerbate the obesity issue, it is possible to turn the tide with education and simple, concrete steps that parents can follow to introduce and maintain healthy eating habits in their families and in their homes.

It is possible that Dr. Ludwig’s suggestion remain a radical last resort rather than a viable option to address extreme cases of obesity.  Parents hold that power.


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