Are Fat Kid’s Parents Guilty of Child Abuse?

Are Fat Kid’s Parents Guilty of Child Abuse?

child abuseI was a little shocked to learn that a Cleveland, Ohio 3rd grader was removed from his parents’ custody because he is obese.  Granted, I need to lose weight, and perhaps that influences my opinion – but it wasn’t intuitive to me that having a fat kid is child abuse.

By the way, I am using the term fat intentionally.  It is all well and good to soften a message with politically correct terms – but there are some topics that I think deserve the impact that the harsher words bring to the table.

Fat Kids

Maybe you’ve heard that your child is chunky.  Or maybe your child is solid.  Or robust.  Or perhaps someone says “He should play football with his build.”  Regardless of how it’s phrased, it all means the same thing.

Your child is fat.

Granted there are varying degrees of fat.  The more medical terms being overweight or obese or grossly obese, but it doesn’t change the message.  To meet our cultural ideas of beauty and appropriate weight, your child is too fat.

Notice I did not mention health impacts.

Why not?

Because negative health impacts are not guaranteed.  There are plenty of heavy people that have perfectly fine blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  There is no guarantee this boy will continue to be obese into adulthood, or that if he does continue to be obese that he will have associated health problems.  Are his chances of health issues increased if he is obese into adulthood?  Yes.  But it is not guaranteed.

In this case, child protective services and others say he was removed from his parents’ care for “medical reasons”.  The medical reason stated being that he is a time bomb waiting to happen when he’s 30.

But I have issues with this logic.

Basically, the State has argued that they removed this child from the custody of his parents (where he is on the school honor roll and active in school activities) due to concerns about his health 22 years from now.


Under that same logic, any parents that don’t discuss sexual intercourse and condoms with their kids could be at risk of having their children placed in foster care.

What?  You think it’s a leap to go from obesity to condoms?  I don’t think it’s a leap at all.

The argument I would make is the parents’ refusal to discuss condoms puts their children at risk for contracting HIV, which in turn may cause them health problems when they are 30.

You don’t like that one?  Then here’s another one for you.

Under the same logic, parents that don’t read to their children from birth and don’t put them in extracurricular activities should have their children removed also.


It is statistically proven that children that are read to are more likely to succeed.  That children in extracurricular activities are more socially adept and also more likely to succeed.  Therefore, if you don’t do these things you are putting your child (as an adult) at risk of not having a reliable job, possibly becoming homeless due to job loss, and therefore at risk of a shortened life span.  Is it guaranteed that these things will happen?  Of course not.  But neither is it guaranteed that this 3rd grader’s current weight will cause him future health problems.

Each argument is based upon the worry about what might happen in 20+ years.

I personally don’t think children should be yanked from their homes, put through the emotional turmoil of being placed in foster care, and have potential emotional scarring for fear of what might happen 20 years from now.

What do you think?

23 Responses to Are Fat Kid’s Parents Guilty of Child Abuse?

  1. Oh dear. This IS a slippery slope indeed. I too am on the chunky side and perhaps I also get a little touchy with this subject but equating being overweight with abuse is just…well, missing the target on abuse altogether, I think. I mean, seriously, there are children who are beaten, raped, underfed, verbally abused, humiliated, forced to do harsh labor and the State thinks that taken a fat kid from his parents is money well spent? Somewhere there is a child in dire need of help wondering where the hell Child Services social workers are. And if the answer is that they are monitoring the lunch line, it is a sad day for everybody.

    • Amen Angela. I understand if a child is in “imminent” danger, but yanking them from their home – which from all other accounts seems to be a supporting one – for fear of danger in two decades? A little much I think.

  2. Daria – you’ve raised a compelling argument. I saw this article too and was pretty surprised. No, I don’t think it’s right. I can tell you having lived in the South Side of Chicago that many parents don’t understand proper nutrition. In my old Chicago neighborhood there were more fast food restaurants with $1.00 menus than grocery stores. I had to shop at a grocery store that was five miles away because the one near me didn’t have any produce except for potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes and rotten apples. I complained numerous times to the store manager to no avail. Food deserts in our urban areas are very real. Combine that with lack of true education about nutrition, and public schools that have all but eliminated PE and what do you get? Fat kids. Oh, and don’t get me started on how Congress voted to keep pizza as a VEGETABLE. Big Food wins again. Yes, all parents should be held accountable but withouth the resources, the deck is stacked against particularly the most vulnerable families.

    • I absolutely see CPS providing nutrition counseling to this family, food stamps for produce, or even grocery deliveries – but to remove a child from what appears to be a loving home because he is obese doesn’t seem like it’s in the best interests of the child.

      Is being 200lbs at 8 in his best interests? Probable not either.

      I agree that we (as a country) need to improve our nutritional knowledge, increase our activity, and improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables to everyone. I was unaware of how much of an urban problem this was until recently when I learned of a green city movement in Denver to bring produce to the inner city via a community garden and other hydroponic growing techniques.

      Bad food is cheaper. It’s a fact.

      I wrote this article fairly strongly, but ultimately I see this as a pretty gray area. There is no easily black and white/ right and wrong answer. It’s a tough one.

  3. total BS – this infuriates me!! I had a student who would regularly come to school with black eyes — from his foster mother. The system is badly broken. No, children shouldn’t be removed from the home; rather, the parents could be required to attend nutrition classes or have mentors. This is extreme and in fact, could be more harmful than good since the foster system is so bad.

    • Oh, Melissa – that breaks my heart. That poor kid! I HATE when I hear stories of kids being let down over and over again. First his parents, then in foster care? When will that poor boy catch a break… Ugh.

  4. I’m not sure about this one. He is just 8 and he weighs more than 200 pounds!! That is very extreme. I think there is imminent danger. Just think about his little bones and knees that have to carry all that weight. I’m not a doctor but this is grotesque. How can a parent let it come this far? Agree on the flipside of foster care though – so many bad stories there as well.

    • Thank you for commenting Anne! I agree that an intervention seems appropriate. I just can’t see this situation being one where the best approach for that intervention is taking the child away from his parents. Granted, I’m sure I don’t know all the facts involved.

      I’m really struggling with the government stepping in and taking this child from his parents. And that may be a personal hang up of my own of not wanting to recognize obesity as a dangerous medical condition due to my own weight. It’s a tough topic for sure!

  5. It just astounds me sometimes when the government chooses to intervene. Education and mentors like Melissa said is a better solution. Why take away a child who is overweight when there are so many in much more imminent danger and need help. My cousin is a social worker and the stories she has of what parents do to their children are heartbreaking.

    • I agree Susan. It just feels like there either must be more to this story than what we’ve been told, or – if not – there must be other cases that are a better use of resources. It makes me wonder if people in this profession don’t have to start scrounging for cases to go after when their workload is “slow”. In most cases that would be a great thing – fewer kids being abused. But if case workers are sitting around twiddling their thumbs and worry about losing their jobs will they make a case out of something that they would normally have ignored?

  6. In California they passed a law allowing children as young as 12 to bypass the need for parental consent for the HPV vaccine. Yes, people, the government IS intruding on your parental rights.

    • Yes, the government intrudes all the time. In the HPV case at least the child gets to choose – this boy was not consulted (that I can tell). On the flip side, kids don’t have any say over what happens to them, if parents aren’t protecting them and trying to care for their medical conditions, then should someone step in? What is the threshold for when it’s ok for outside interference? I’m just asking the question, but don’t have a consistent answer that I’m comfortable with…obviously obesity doesn’t meet my “feel ok with it” meter while black eyes and belt marks does meet it. But there is a lot of area in between which I imagine each person will find the line in a slightly different spot.

  7. It all depends the slope.

    Were there medical conditions the parents weren’t looking after because of the obesity? Diabetes, heart disease etc. Was the child healthy?

    The government needs to look at themselves about the way kids eat in schools which to me is atrocious. I fix my stepson breakfast because the food at school for morBnings is poptarts, sticky buns and sugary milk. Lunch is pizza and other fast fat foods. Before they step in and call the parents abusive they need to look at their own surroundings.

    • I agree Cheryl! There are government sanctioned school foods that are laden with sodium, calories and fat. Let’s start there if we want to improve our country’s eating habits and lifestyle.

  8. All good points Daria.

    It is indeed a slippery slope. This one encroachment (not really the term that’s needed here, like scary) leads the way for others, as you pointed out. Even if, as Cheryl B says “were there medical conditions”, does that mean foster care starts to look at parents who have medical conditions and they decide of the course of treatment the parents are following is “good”.
    If we’re projecting time bomb, what’s going to happen to this kid at age 30 after being ripped out of his parents home and put in the foster system. Now that could f*ck him up.

    • Absolutely Cherry! This opens the door to the government telling us whether our medical decisions for our children are appropriate or not. Forget freedom of religion to avoid vaccines or choose not to pursue Chemo. Yes, this is a hard situation. This boy is 200 lbs! But I absolutely don’t like the precedent it is setting.

  9. Horrible and stupid. I can’t imagine the conversation that went on in the CPS offices to lead up to such a terrible decision.

    What about intervention, providing services, offering education – there are quite a few other, more effective, options. This just doesn’t make sense and is a great example of government over-stepping it’s boundaries.

  10. Hi Daria – Wow. this is an ethics question that I really don’t know how to answer. If there is clear-cut sexual or physical abuse calling DYFS to open up an investigation would be an obvious action to take. But taking action against an otherwise good home where parents are perhaps misinformed & misguided & and have long-standing issues of their own regarding weight, love and parenting, is just a loaded question. I think it might be more productive and less expensive, and less emotionally trying to the child to have the family attend educational and counseling sessions around these issues. The DYFS system is already overburdened with people who really do need help. I think that an educational and counseling program is a better approach.

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