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Doctor's Views on Child Custody and Super Obese Kids Controversial

We referred to the "bedrock standard" of the best interests of the child in discussing Florida child custody law in a recent blog post (July 15). In doing so, we were taking into account the many factors that together help define what those best interests are. We mentioned a number of those considerations, which are actually enumerated in the relevant state statutory law.

Had we waited a couple weeks to address the matter, we would likely have asked readers to consider yet another factor that is suddenly getting more than a modicum of media attention owing to both its source and the lively debate it has engendered.

The source is Dr. David Ludwig, a physician in Boston at the Harvard-affiliated Children's Hospital. The factor he would like thrown into the mix in certain cases where a child's best interests are being considered is obesity.

What Ludwig is specifically recommending is that the government should be allowed to intervene and take a child away from his or her family in a case where the child is extremely obese, i.e., in a dangerous condition that could lead to a premature loss of life.

Ludwig's views appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and he says they are not radical. He advocates putting dangerously obese children whose parents or other caregivers are not actively addressing the problem into temporary state custody in foster care, "with the goal of reuniting child and family as soon as possible." He says that intervention "may require instruction on parenting."

Unsurprisingly, Ludwig's statements are generating some controversy, with a broad coalition of critics saying that extreme child obesity must be treated across a wide array of concerns, with emphasis on education and keeping a family intact.

For those who agree with him, respect and a light hand are emphasized.

"We just have to do it with caution and humility and make sure we really can say that our interventions are going to do more good than harm," says a medical ethicist familiar with Ludwig's recommendations.

Related Resource: NPR, "Should Parents Lose Custody of Super Obese Kids?" July 12, 2011

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