No Freedom Fries for Fatty

By now, you likely have heard of Dr. David Ludwig, Harvard professor and child obesity specialist at Children’s Hospital in Boston. He and attorney and research partner Lindsey Murtagh authored a piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggesting that severely obese children might require the government to remove them from custody of their parents.

If this doesn’t convince you that liberals support a nanny state, nothing will.

As a child psychologist with over 20 years of experience, I can say with supreme confidence that taking a child from his or her parents is almost always traumatic. Sometimes it is justified, of course; in cases of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, the child is sometimes far better off living without the offending parent. Similarly, when a parent evidences a profound inability to provide the basic needs of a child, the child might be safer with a relative or, rarely, with a foster parent. But removing a child from the home because the parent doesn’t adequately assist the child in losing weight? This is nothing short of ridiculous.

Such a proposal includes several dangerous messages. First, the messages to children: your parents are so screwed up that they can’t take care of you. They aren’t good enough for you and you aren’t good enough to stay with them. Second, the messages to parents: ultimately, you do not control the destiny of your child; the government does. Also, the state has the right to take your children away if you don’t get their weight (or other variables) under control. Third, the message to departments of child protective services: now you have more power to control parents and children. Finally, the message to taxpayers: you will now bear the burden of paying for a state-run juvenile weight-loss program.

Does Dr. Ludwig really believe that a child who is taken from the home because the parents neglect adequate control over their child’s eating and activity level will be “scared straight”? I’ll tell you what is more likely: that child will be hardened into a mortal enemy of the state and will most likely revel in his hatred every time his ravenous teeth sink into a Twinkie. And believe me, those teeth will become even more ravenous, not less.

This slope is covered in WD-40. If the government can assume custody of a child who is grossly obese, it can also take custody of a child who is dangerously thin. It can steal away a child whose parents refuse to vaccinate. It can abscond with a homeschooled child whose parents are teaching creationism and other “dangerous” messages. This should send shivers down your spine (not up your leg).

It’s laughable, even while it is scary, that these Harvard educated blokes truly believe that the state can reform the enabling parents and their rotund progeny. More likely, the state can restrict the diets of fat kids just long enough to satisfy their supervisors, whereupon the child will be returned to the parents. Upon their return, the family will celebrate with a food-stuffing orgy (which is one of the primary means of connection in obese families) that would make all the Roman gods blush.

So, if government isn’t the solution, then what is? As with every nanny state solution, it is always a good practice to examine how the government and free market could affect positive change without massive taxpayer cost and a host of inevitable unintended consequences. Here are a few ideas for the obesity epidemic:

  • The government should practice the first, do no harm principle by not allowing food stamps to buy Coke, Ding-Dongs and Doritos–items that greatly contribute to obesity. Food stamps, which cost taxpayers billions per year, should be used only for healthy essential foods. Don’t believe that food stamps can be used to buy junk? Check it out.
  • Private health care insurance companies could offer significantly lower premiums for parents whose children were within healthy weight range. Here, the parents win, the child wins, and the insurance company wins. And of course, no burden is placed on the taxpayer.
  • Churches and synagogues can do wonders to take care of their own. They could take the initiative to promote and foster healthy bodies. If the body is the temple of God, then families should be encouraged to take good care of those bodies. With firm but loving guidance, parents can be discipled to take reasonable control of their child’s eating and activity levels. Worship centers could encourage biking or walking to services, or even have “Biggest Loser” contests.

As always, the mantra is “Get government out. They not only can’t do the job, but it’s not their responsibility.” Parents should unite in their message to the government; it’s the same as the message to NAMBLA: “Keep your grubby hands off my kid.”

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