The Casualties of the Government's War on Obesity

"It takes a village to raise a child," as noted and self-proclaimed progressive Hillary Clinton advocates, and according to this mindset, when adults allow their children to be obese (apparently, it's invariably a choice), the "village" should have not only the right, but the duty to save the child from irresponsible parents' hands. 

In recent years, medical science has reinforced the social stigmas that have been associated with being fat.  It is now accepted far and wide that fat people are a menace to their own personal health, and to the American progressive, they are a menace to society as they seek to communalize health care delivery in this country.  So progressives unconsciously offer their socialistic panacea.  They advise that the government be given control to influence individual choice in order to quell the obesity "epidemic" via specified taxation upon unhealthy foods, while subsidizing healthy foods, health education, and fitness programs.

That may be all well and good to ensure that adults begin altering their lifestyles to reflect the state's health standards, but children are another story.

According to an ABC News article:

Taking obese children from their families has become a topic of intense debate over the past year after one high-profile pediatric obesity expert made controversial comments in the Journal of the American Medical Association advocating the practice in acute cases.

"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," Dr. David Ludwig co-wrote with Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard's School of Public Health.

One such "acute case" is described in this article about an anonymous third-grade boy and his mother.  The boy weighed over 200 pounds when he began being monitored by social workers and enrolled in a health advocacy program.  After briefly losing a bit of weight, he again began to gain, which prompted the Department of Children and Family Services to ask "a juvenile court for custody of the boy."  Their request was granted.

To my surprise, this was the only information necessary for many Americans, conservatives and progressive alike, to indict the woman as a careless mother and applaud the state's decision to confiscate the child.  Notable conservative talk radio host Joe Pagliarulo is one of those voices.  During his Monday morning rant, a female caller challenged the host's opinion, citing unknown genetic dispositions and the mental anguish and confusion the child will undoubtedly suffer as a result of the court's decision.  He disregarded her concerns, assuming them to be a joke.  When I voiced similar concerns via e-mail, he responded by assuring me that the mother is "a parent who obviously is neglecting the health needs of her child."

There are a few points in the local (and far more detailed) report that perhaps Mr. Pagliarulo and others of his opinion might have missed in conjuring such damning assessments, though.  It is perhaps pertinent to note that aside from sleep apnea (for which he is treated), the child suffers no diagnosed disease -- the child was confiscated not for the "parents' chronic failure to address medical problems," but because of the "medical conditions he is at risk for," raising the question of whether there was an immediate need for these measures.  Drawing a history of negligence in regard to the mother would be difficult, too, considering that she has a sixteen-year-old son described as "tall and thin."  If anything, she's shown that she is not holistically and abusively allowing gluttonous behavior in her household.

Likely, it was also not considered that "other than having a weight problem, the boy was a normal elementary school student who was on the honor roll and participated in school activities."  "Was" is aptly used in this sentence.  One has to wonder how he will return to such normalcy after being seized by authorities "from his school" and limited to seeing his mother for only two hours a week for being too fat.

Given that the mother vehemently expresses love and care for her son, that she willfully complied with requests to enroll her son in a suggested health advocacy program while making strides to change his lifestyle, and that the family has a verifiable history of obesity, it would appear that the "village" overstepped its bounds.  And it wouldn't be the first time for such a thing.  Ten years ago, "3-year-old Anamarie Regino, weighing 90 pounds, was taken from her parents and placed into foster care" for two months.  When her condition did not improve, she was "returned to her parents" and was "later diagnosed with a genetic predisposition."  Upon reflection, her mother lamented, "They say they did it for the well-being of the child, but it did more damage than any money or therapy could ever do to fix it."

And the sad truth is that Regino is right.  For these mothers and these children, the damage is lasting and irreversible.  These mothers suffer unjust condemnation and have been robbed of their right to enjoy a portion of their short lives alongside their children -- which for many is the greatest blessing that life provides.  And the children, already plagued by everyday social stigmas that come with obesity, have to come to terms with an even deeper disassociation from normality.

The "village," however, is unscathed, and remains assured of its own righteousness despite having acted not upon any intimate assessment of their specific situations, but upon a wholesale condemnation of obesity and an unwavering belief that the "village" can better care for a child than a family.

It is time we demand that the government scale back its influence upon the American family, particularly where obesity is concerned, as it is clear that the government is not capable of properly assessing its complex causes or risks.  And ultimately, we must reject once and for all the notion that "it takes a village to raise a child."  It takes personal care and genuine love to raise a child.  And that is something even a Utopian village simply cannot provide.

William Sullivan blogs at