Obesity and Child Custody

We have all watched First Lady Michelle Obama plant vegetables in the White House Garden, visit news and talk shows to promote better nutrition for our Nation’s children, and now wait for her soon to be published healthy-eating cookbook, American Grown: How the White House Kitchen Garden Inspires Families, Schools, and Communities. So we were hardly surprised when we noticed a reoccurring new argument in child custody battles; child obesity.

There have always been chubby kids. In fact, some would say that kids don’t lose all their baby fat until they hit puberty. But now we have an epidemic of fat kids. According to a Center for Disease Control report, there are more than 12 million obese kids in the US, and that they will likely have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

This alarming fact is now being used as a weapon in family law courts around the country by parents locked in contentious custody battles.

Douglas Gardner, a family-law practitioner in Tempe, Arizona told Fox News, “Typically, one parent is accusing the other of putting a child at risk of developing diabetes or heart disease—or saying that the child is miserable because he’s getting made fun of at school.”

Childhood ObesityABC News reported last summer that Harvard University child obesity expert Dr. David Ludwig sparked outrage among families and professionals across the country when he wrote that some parents should lose custody of their severely obese children.

“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.”

Similar health risk arguments used to be made about smoking. However, the anti-smoking lobby has successfully reduced the number of active smokers by promoting tough laws and on-going education campaigns. The same is not yet true of the anti-obesity movement. Yes, the Nation is making progress – sometimes with regulations such as no soda for sale in schools, and sometimes by using economic pressure such as Southwest Airlines 2-ticket policy for overweight passengers who may encroach on a neighboring seat space.

If the analysis of child custody is to be focused on the child’s best interest, then it’s expected that these arguments will influence the child custody agreements. Child obesity is a serious health matter and perhaps it’s one the courts should look at when making custody determinations.

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