Not Without My Obese Child

Last week, Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at a Harvard-affiliated Children’s Hospital in Boston, suffered a tremendous media backlash after his Journal of the American Medicine Association article suggested that parents should lose custody of a super obese child.

Dr. Ludwig believes that foster care is necessary because a severely obese child is similar to an abused and neglected child since obesity can be life-threatening and cause many health complications. He posited that, as a last result, when all other options have failed, the state should intervene and take that child away from those neglectful parents.

Obesity rates are exceptionally high, affecting 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the Unites States. Not only that, but an alarming 28 percent of Mexican/American children age 6-11 years old and 26 percent of children age 12-19 years old are obese. Our children are getting bigger and bigger with more and more health risks. But does this mean the government can take our children away?

As a Latino, I know the importance of the family unit. And foster care could be devastating for many Latino families given that the Latino children have a high rate of obesity. Taking children from their homes, their parents, and their environments is an extreme situation for not only Latino families, but all families. I disagree with Dr. Ludwig and I feel that this approach is just sugar-coating the problem.

Not long ago, huge headlines aired on the news about the fattest child in England, Georgia Davis, coming to the United States to go to fat camp. Sure enough she lost over 200 pounds in a controlled environment. It’s very ironic that someone actually came to the US to lose weight when we have so many fat children here. But sure enough, Georgia Davis went back home to her environment in England and gained the weight back.

Do you really think that sending the child to another temporary environment will change the child for good, or do you think this will be another Georgia Davis case? I have worked with many children and families in the past and I currently work on the forefront with weight loss. I understand that environment is a key component of behavior. But to get more answers, I interviewed a fellow Registered Dietitian and Board Certified Pediatric/Adolescent Weight Management Specialist, Sarah Koszyk, from MV Nutrition in San Francisco, who works with Latino families every day regarding obesity.

“Taking a child away from the parents and family will not work. Like Georgia Davis, if the child is already emotionally eating, what will happen now that the child has more emotional stress and traumatic events to cope with? Eat more? Also, will the new foster family be interviewed on how they eat or provide food to their children? How will that be monitored?” asked Koszyk.

“The problem is not just the parents or the child or the environment, it is all of the above. Side-swiping the issue and affixing a band-aid will not cure an epidemic. What we need to see is a family approach in which everyone in the home is educated. I see my families once a week for the first month and every other week after that for at least 3 months in order to really pay close attention to the needs and change behaviors with the entire family. The children I see, and many times their parents, too, lose weight because they are learning tools to use to adjust and improve their lifestyle,” Said Koszyk.

After discussing the issue with Ms. Koszyk, I suggest the following solutions to the childhood obesity epidemic:

1. Change the child’s environment and housing environment by educating the family on foods to buy and healthy and affordable snacks and meals to eat. Educate, educate, educate.

2. This education cannot be accomplished in the 1-hour class or 1-hour session that many community programs provide. This type of education needs to be ongoing and be provided in a series of sessions to really emphasize environmental and household change.

3. This is where the government can step in and, instead of spending the money on foster care, put the money into a family-approach educational program.

4. Registered Dietitians are great resources for learning healthy, affordable, and tasty food options. So find your local Registered Dietitian by your zip code at America Dietetic Association’s website Eat Right.

Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian (RD) and certified specialist is sports dietetics (CSSD) with more than 16 years of experience. He is a national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and the creator of the Eating Free weight management program (an international, Internet-based weight loss and weight management program).  He is an in-demand health and nutrition expert on both local and national television and radio, and in articles in print publications and online.  Villacorta is the owner of San Francisco-based private practice MV Nutrition, the recipient of two consecutive ‘‘Best Bay Area Dietitian’’ awards (2009 and 2010) from the San Francisco Chronicle and Citysearch.

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