Should the government remove severely obese children from their homes?

A recent commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association raises the question of whether the state ought to remove some obese children from their homes for their own protection.

The authors are primarily considering the case of severe obesity–when a child’s BMI is at or beyond the 99th percentile. Proponents of state intervention argue that in allowing their children to become so obese these parents have been negligent and endangered the health and maybe even the lives of their children. Children who suffer from obesity of this magnitude are severely at risk for type 2 diabetes, which decreases life expectancy significantly and may necessitate risky bariatric surgery. The authors argue that

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. Indeed, it may be unethical to subject such children to an invasive and irreversible procedure without first considering foster care.

On the other hand, parents have a well-established constitutional right to raise their children however they want. Many would argue that childhood obesity simply doesn’t constitute an imminent risk of serious harm required to take children away from their parents. In addition to being a horrendous interference in a private matter, critics argue that foster care may not constitute a better option. The authors concede that “state intervention would clearly not be desirable or practical, and probably not be legally justifiable, for most of the approximately 2 million children in the United States with a BMI at or beyond the 99th percentile.”

In general, I’m against this approach.  On the other hand, I do think that a child’s severe obesity imposes future costs on society, and interventions such as soda taxes would probably be a good thing.

What do you think?


Dr John Ellis MD

Board-certified anesthesiologist, with expertise in cardiovascular anesthesia and the implications of obesity and sleep apnea in anesthesia. See for professional information. Dr. Ellis has used the strategies in here to: (1) lose 120 lbs over 18 months, (2) stop all antihypertensive medicines, and (3) no longer need CPAP treatment for sleep apnea.

One Comment:

  1. Puzzled in jersey

    I do not think that children should be placed in foster care for something as petty as this…give e parents help…a dietician or some kind of guidance to help their child…I grew up obese…if you take the child and put them in foster care, the state still pays for that so why not give the family a chance and give them the help they need to help their child…not tax soda and other goods…which is taxed already….becoming obese does not just happen due to soda people…it’s about overeating….four sandwiches, three bowls of cereal, package or two of cookies and the list goes on….let’s not help the government fi d a way to tax more of our treats. Get the help people need for their families….like not sending troops to other countries when we could be using that money here on other more I portent things

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