Real Quick: Still more punishment for fat children

By | July 13, 2011

Children's legs and feet at an outdoor birthday party. By Loadmaster (David R. Tribble), licensed under Creative Commons
Two researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have made a controversial recommendation in an opinion piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They suggest that state laws governing child abuse be employed to remove “extremely” fat children from their parents’ custody, and that these children be placed in foster care.

This was sent to me by several readers, plus it was on my local news this morning. MSNBC has an opinion column on the subject from yesterday evening, which manages to argue against the idea while still being absolutely ghastly at the same time, talking about “the epidemic of blubber” and “porky youths” and uncritically blaming all this rampant fattery exclusively on overeating. Given that the column’s author is on the porky side himself, some of this language may be intended to be humorously glib, and to his credit, he does also note: “There is no proven cure for obesity.”

However, when I talk about the overwhelming focus on childhood obesity contributing to a culture that punishes fat kids, this is exactly what I mean. The article authors argue that their suggestion is not about assigning blame to parents, but it is difficult to see it as being about anything else — if you are removing a child from their home under the guise of protecting them from imminent, life-threatening harm, you are essentially arguing that the child’s parents are incapable of providing that child a safe and nurturing environment in which to live. Even if there are no criminal charges filed against the parents,  on a purely social level, who else’s fault could it be?

State intervention “ideally will support not just the child but the whole family, with the goal of reuniting child and family as soon as possible. That may require instruction on parenting,” said [Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Harvard-affiliated Children’s Hospital Boston], who wrote the article with Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and a researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health.

“Despite the discomfort posed by state intervention, it may sometimes be necessary to protect a child,” Murtagh said. (Source)

Possibly I am being a tich oversensitive here, but I think that state intervention involving the removal of a child from their home, even against their will, is a little more than a discomfort, and I am frankly horrified by the dismissive tone of this language. Placing a child in foster care is not a minor inconvenience, and yet here we are in a world where researchers can frame it as “discomfort” and nothing more. I am inclined to blame a cultural ideology in which fat children are not identified as individuals requiring personal attention and support, but are instead simply an embarrassing problem to be solved — or eradicated.

The focus on childhood obesity at the expense of focusing on health for all children creates a Machiavellian situation in which fat kids are to be slimmed down by any means necessary — even if it means taking them away from loving and attentive parents. Meanwhile, average-sized kids who also subsist on fast food and a lack of exercise are ignored, because these “risky” behaviors are evidently only a problem if the child is fat.

Placing fat kids in foster care only serves to punish both kid and parents in a brutally public way, as the child will undoubtedly internalize the reasons for their removal as being their fault (and who will pay for the years of subsequent therapy they may require?), and the parents will be socialized as monsters who are slowly murdering their offspring. This is even more of a risk in cases of “extreme” obesity, in which the kid in question is likely already experiencing social and emotional issues, and possibly bullying.

Simply put, if a fat child is gaining weight rapidly and developing health issues as a result, it does not serve the child to remove them from their existing support system — psychologically speaking, this is as likely to make things worse as it is to improve anything. An ideal solution would diversify and improve the dietary choices and eating habits for all kids, especially kids in urban and low-income areas who are most at risk, and provide space for all children to engage in fun and safe physical activity. Unfortunately, advocacy in favor of subjective standards of health and well-being for everyone lacks the scary keywords that draw attention to irresponsible articles like the JAMA example above. It’s a damn shame too.

Hat tip to Devin and several other readers for the heads up.


Lauren on July 13, 2011 at 10:40 am.

Makes me shudder to think about what their criteria are for what children are “extremely” fat. Especially since they very well could have applied to me when I was a kiddo. This would be some seriously dystopian shit if it were ever put into practice.


Jackie on July 13, 2011 at 11:04 am.

It seems to me that this ‘take the children away and fix them’ approach has been used over and over again by modern societies to reform socially deviant attributes and behavior.* In the past black children from Australia to Germany have been institutionalized to civilize them. Although lacking state intervention, gay children are sent to ‘reform’ camps where they will be retrained. It seems only logical that fat children would become another group of deviants to be controlled and reformed. And, it’s always for the best interest of the child!
*I am not saying that these efforts to institutionalize and reform problematic peoples are the exact same, or that being black or gay or fat are the same.


Lesley on July 13, 2011 at 11:28 am.

Yes, and I’ve little doubt there is a clear race and class aspect to this as well, even if it’s unarticulated. The children of wealthy white folks are unlikely to be removed from their homes, no matter how fat they are — this is a move that would specifically affect people in low income situations.


AniaGosia on August 4, 2011 at 10:07 pm.

Jackie, I think you’re exactly right. Have you read Foucault? I highly recommend “Discipline & Punish” – in it, Foucault talks about exactly this kind of thing: institutionalizing people in order to eliminate social deviancy. I’m writing my dissertation on his work, so I’m biased, but Foucault is the shiznit.


Alli on July 13, 2011 at 11:04 am.

I read the article myself and couldn’t help but feel as though I was reading a new version of Swift’s A Modest Proposal.

I also find it odd that the recommondations lean on the child’s placement in foster care. Friends of mine, strict vegans like myself, were told quite bluntly that they were not allowed to foster children b/c they would be “imposing their own beliefs too directly on the children in their care” … by feeding them a (healthy) vegan diet at home.

I don’t think that we should punish or traumatize fat kids by removing them from their parents’ homes at all – and I hope (though I know it’s not true) that the suggestion is merely hyperbolic. Still, I find it troubling that kids who are already in the foster care system, are denied the potential of living with warm, caring, people, (like my friends) who would provide a well balanced, healthy diet. Seems like an overhwhelming amount of “dietary policing” going on by government here.


Lesley on July 13, 2011 at 11:14 am.

Friends of mine, strict vegans like myself, were told quite bluntly that they were not allowed to foster children b/c they would be “imposing their own beliefs too directly on the children in their care” … by feeding them a (healthy) vegan diet at home.


Unfortunately, the suggestion is serious. The researchers discuss the growing practice of performing weight loss surgeries (mostly gastric bandings) on children and teens, when the long-term consequences of such medical intervention on growing humans remain unclear. At that point they assert that a better approach would be to remove these kids from their homes and place them in foster care. It SHOULD be satire, but it’s not — the sad truth is this is already happening sporadically, in several states.


Lesley on July 13, 2011 at 11:29 am.

Also: so if would-be foster parents are avid churchgoers, would that also be a problem insofar as “imposing their own beliefs too directly on the children in their care”? I doubt it.


Alli on July 13, 2011 at 11:49 am.

that’s exactly the point my friends tried to make. Years ago at a vegan dinner group I used to attend, one couple told me that point blank, they just “staged” their home when they wanted a foster child by displaying cans of tuna and beef stew in a cupboard. Someone can foster a child and beat all sorts of evangelical crap into their heads, but offer healthy food choices, no way. (FTR, the two couples I know in this story were understandable that any children they fostered wouldn’t be coming from vegan homes. They’d eat vegan in the house, but be allowed to eat school lunch and as they pleased on play dates and at family gatherings).


Eclectica on July 13, 2011 at 4:15 pm.

Well that is exactly what has happened in one case in the UK. A couple were strict Christians with anti gay beliefs. THey have been told they will not be allowed to foster children.
Do I think children should be removed from homes if extremely overweight? No. But I do think that parental responsbility for children’s eating habits and health should be stressed. This involves education.


BuffPuff on July 13, 2011 at 6:28 pm.

Eclectica, I’m British and at the insistence of my school, was put on my first diet as a slightly tubby 11 year-old three years shy of puberty. This was in 1970 when fast food scarcely existed. My parents, both excellent cooks, had brought me up to cook and eat a wide variety of foods. They had, however, both been stigmatised as fat children and wanted to save me from what they’d been through. In actual fact they’d both been a great deal fatter than me and this well intentioned intervention was the only fat persecution I experienced as a child

My folks, who were self-hating serial dieters, had already taught me that fat was bad and shameful by self-denigrating example. Childhood dieting decimated my metabolism, screwed up my ability to eat intuitively forever, encouraged me to think in a profoundly unhealthy and disordered way about food, gave me a lifelong dislike of my body shape, (which I have never lost despite a 25 year involvement with Fat Acceptance), and ramped up my weight over time – as it does for almost all dieters. God only knows how much more fucked up I would have been had I been removed from my stable, loving, literate, middle class home and put into care “for my own good” by some interfering, ninny state arsehole who, simply by looking at me, determined my parents needed “educating”.

Even as a child I knew it wasn’t about health. As a child with long, slender limbs who’d yet to grow breasts or sprout hips, my fat, such as it was, was around my middle because most of the women on both sides of my dad’s family are apple shaped – as am I. There was nothing wrong with my health or my eating habits until I was pronounced Officially Fat. I was incredibly active; rode a bike, swam 6 days a week through the summer; wasn’t bad at gym and loved to dance. I also ate exactly the same stuff in exactly the same amounts as my thinner, more conventionally shaped friends did. .Dieting never felt like anything other than a punishment for the way my body looked and, because of the way it looked, I learned that total strangers had the right to police what I ate and make pronouncements about my body. I was in my late 20s before it even occurred to me that I was permitted to have boundaries of any kind.

Fat children are already being taken into care in the UK and their parents branded liars when they claim to feed them a healthy diet, particularly if they are fat themselves. The culture of fat hate is fifty times worse than it was when I was a child. While the inept dissemination through a fat hating media of “science” funded primarily by organisations that benefit financially from whipping up obesity hysteria will only result in a fatter society.


Kat on July 14, 2011 at 12:58 am.

Actually there was a case of a muslim woman being denied because she wouldn’t keep pork products in the house. Which freaked me out because I’m Jewish and hoped one day to foster older kids, and knowing I can’t because i keep a kosher house felt horrible to me. I wouldn’t care if they were Jewish or not, they just couldn’t bring non Kosher food in!


AniaGosia on August 4, 2011 at 10:11 pm.

Bizarre. Pork is hardly a requirement for a happy childhood.


girolle on July 13, 2011 at 11:09 am.

Once again, it’s so much easier to blame (and punish) individuals than to do the hard work of creating systemic changes to our healthcare and food systems that would make everyone truly healthier.

Crap like this makes me embarrassed to work for Harvard.


Lesley on July 13, 2011 at 11:31 am.

This. Lucky for us, obese kids don’t have psychological selves to consider! WHAT A RELIEF.


Christine on July 13, 2011 at 11:13 am.

WHO signs up for this stuff? really? 1. How do you even determine who counts as “extremely” fat? 2. How could anyone think this is a good idea? and 3. doesn’t society have anything better to do than target and blame the fat kids? This is some Michelle Obama fat kids are ruining the economy shit.

If being obese is some sort of problem that can be solved, how in the world is humiliating a family going to do it? Shaming doesn’t make people thin. Otherwise, you better trust that we would all be walking around emaciated. Moreover, putting kids in foster care opens them up to the possibility of real abuse, and costs US money. Foster care is expensive. Who knew that the economy was doing so well that we could just throw fatties into foster care, without worrying about additional costs. Forget the fact that it won’t make one iota of change in the obesity and relative health of the individuals (Say hello to LOTS of therapy), but why would any government want to pay for this? Let’s not fund our public schools, when we could throw all the fat (and likely poor kids, we know they won’t be able to afford an attorney) into foster care.


Lisa on July 13, 2011 at 11:15 am.

As a death fat mother of two, this whole line of thought scares me. I mean who will be making the decisions as to who is too fat, will they be hiring new people or using the old system. I have seen enough of foster care and social services to know that they often fail kids who are in real danger. I am all for programs that help parents obtain more nutritious foods and find safer spaces for children to play. Working with the family to keep kids with loving parents makes more sense. I am afraid focusing on this non threat will divert attention from the kids who really are being abused and neglected.


LadyWhoKnows on July 13, 2011 at 11:23 am.

Obviously, this is a horrific proposal, but I do think we can take comfort in the fact that it will never happen. My parents took in foster children for years and probably 90% were returned to their parents. Most of these parents were drug addicts, neglectful, abusive, even rapists, and the state saw fit to return these children to them. Why? Money talks and foster care is a burden on already broke states.

It’s beyond horrible, but it’s true. I think everyday how blessed I am to have been adopted out of the system rather than sent back to the adusive situaiton I lived in for 10 years.


Mintii on July 13, 2011 at 11:38 am.

I remember hearing online this happened to Jessica. A very very fat little girl who used to come on Maury with her mom. She was taken out of her home when she reached 300 pounds as a pre-teen.
She’s lost a lot of weight and was placed back into her parents house.


Amy on July 13, 2011 at 11:39 am.

This is utterly disgusting and I am almost beyond words. I have three children, all girls, all growing up in the same home with the same food and activity opportunities, and they ALL HAVE DIFFERENT BODY TYPES. To think that my heavier/rounder-looking child could be removed from her happy home and loving family just because she doesn’t fit some arbitrary definition of “health” is abhorrent.

I am familiar with the foster care system where I live because I friend has been a foster parent for years – it’s a mess. The state is desperate for people who can responsibly care for children in need. How removing children from stable homes and placing them in this shaky system is beyond me.

I don’t care what any medical or public policy organization says – my parental rights and my child’s individual human rights surpass all else. If I am serving my child’s human rights and best interests by providing her with a safe, loving environment in which to develop, I see no reason for the government to interfere with custody. Taking a happy child from their family for being fat is, to me, tantamount to kidnapping. I could cry to think of all the children and families in serious need of services due to abuse, neglect, poverty, etc. while some asshole in a suit or a lab coat is using public resources to demonize fat kids and their families.

Perhaps we fatties should pool our resources and buy an island. Fatopia, where body autonomy in in the constitution! 🙂


Zoe Danger Awesome on July 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm.

Dude yes an island! I call being being island fatty princess.


Elizabeth on July 13, 2011 at 11:48 am.

These Ivy League researchers think they have every right to recommend state intervention in the lives of fat kids . . . like state intervention in family life takes place in an unraced context where immigration status doesn’t matter . . . like two researchers AT HARVARD have any idea what life is like on the ground for families the state is trying to tear apart.


sony_b on July 13, 2011 at 12:43 pm.

There’s also a huge missing piece, beyond the already messy foster system – who exactly is going to foster these kids? If they are removing kids from homes because they are too fat, are they going to have a weight cutoff for foster parents? You must be this skinny to take in a child? I imagine that this would reduce the pool of foster homes considerably.


O.C. on July 13, 2011 at 2:21 pm.

Yes! And, who’s going to pay for the foster care? My state already severely underfunds social services. EVEN if this were a good idea instead of a brutal and misdirected overreaction to a non-problem, there still aren’t the resources to make the brutal overreaction work.


BuffPuff on July 13, 2011 at 6:46 pm.

But I bet they’ll try anyway. If nothing else it’ll give folk yet another reason to put the boot in. “Fat people are draining our valuable resources!”


kbryna on July 13, 2011 at 2:33 pm.

YES! I’m so glad to read these comments on the inadequacy of foster care as a “solution” – I’m not expert, and have no personal experience with any foster systems, but I’ve never read anything, anywhere, ever, that raves about the awesome foster system, its great funding, the miracles and wonders it works on children with myriad issues, how much children LOVE being removed from their own families and sent to live with strangers, how much children enjoy seeing their own parents demonized, etc.

And this doesn’t even begin to touch on the many complex ways that race and class and gender and geography (urban vs. rural, especially) interact and affect health, weight, etc.


Emily on July 13, 2011 at 12:50 pm.

I read a newspaper article on this and one story that stood out to me was about a child whose mother worked two low-paying jobs and fed her child mostly fast food because it was cheap and she didn’t have time to cook. Her child was removed from her care because the child was very fat. What bothers me so much about this (among other things) is that feeding your kids primarily fast food, while not optimal, is not abuse and is not even *considered* abuse unless the kid gets extremely fat. The truth is, many parents feed their kids fast food for varying reasons, and many (probably most) of these children are not extremely fat (or fat at all). For example, growing up, my best friend’s family ate almost nothing but fast food (and her family was middle class and her mother was not single) BUT she and her sister were very thin. So… unless we are going to categorize a fast food diet as abuse (and I don’t think we should), removing this particular child was punishing that family for behavior that many other families engage in just because this particular child had a genetic propensity to gain a lot of weight.
[reposted from my comment at RoundShape]


Katie on July 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm.

This is disgusting. What’s next? Taking average weight kids from fat parents? Ugh. I am almost at a loss for words over this. I guess I am just lucky both my kids have my husband’s metabolism.
And at what age can they start considering removal from their homes? Is a fat 6 month old a problem? I know mothers who have been very careful about how much breastmilk they give their babies so they don’t get fat, if you can even imagine that. I also gave heard of mothers not letting their toddlers eat cheese or butter on veggies. I listened to a parenting podcast and a mother called in worried aboutt making her daughter obese by measuring out ONE TEASPOON of juice and mixing it with water in a sippy cup. A policy like this will only encourage this type of behavior. Girls are already growing up with disordered eating beaten into them by their mother’s


Katie on July 13, 2011 at 1:19 pm.

Ahhh.. I hit send too soon on my comment above. I meant to say girls have such disordered ideas about food because of their mother’s issues.
As a mother this is one of my biggest worries. I don’t want my daughter to waste one second of her life obsessing about food and weight. I have wasted years of my life doing it and it would break my heart if she had my issues.


Tom Brokaw on July 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm.

Disgusting. Tax payers shouldn’t pay for parents’ gross negligence.


Lesley on July 13, 2011 at 1:26 pm.

Ha. That’s one perspective on it.


BuffPuff on July 13, 2011 at 6:49 pm.

And a very predictable perspective it is too.


Lesley on July 13, 2011 at 7:19 pm.

Indeed. No one can accuse me of not yielding the occasional comment to the loyal opposition. 🙂


tombrokaw on July 13, 2011 at 8:02 pm.

lol I call B.S. Predictable would have been “hooray, take those kids away and punish fatties and make ’em lose weight.”

If I had said that it would have been labeled predictable as well. And it would have been, as disagreement with OP is the standard method of trolling, correct?

I daresay I took an angle quite oblique. I should, as should anyone in my position, be applauded for choosing the elegant over the direct.


BuffPuff on July 14, 2011 at 9:54 am.

To which, sir, I would respectfully direct your attention to my comment to OC at 6:46 p.m. predicting your elegant, (albeit not so oblique), response.

Just as fat people are condemned for draining the UK health service because of the amount of bariatric surgery they “need”, it stands to reason they will be condemned for “needing” intervention and/or education from poor, overstressed social workers. Might I suggest that if fat were not stigmatised, medicalised and presented as a moral failing it would not be necessary to blame fat people for doing what they are increasingly under pressure to do for fear of facing dire consequences?

I would also like to remind you that fat people are taxpayers and that none of us get to choose what those taxes are spent on.

Sorry, Lesley. This is me and my packet of Trollsnax® leaving the building.


Emily H on July 13, 2011 at 1:37 pm.

This is so disturbing i have no words to adequately describe. The thought that a child could be removed from a loving home with their family because of circumstances truly beyond their control and those of their parents is abhorrent. That a DOCTOR would advocate this at all is even worse (is there something worse than abhorrent?). Really. Disgusting. And sad.
When i saw this article i was planning to send it in case you hadn’t seen it, but thought “i’ll wait and see if she posts something”. And sure enough.


Jak on July 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm.

Interesting proposal. I have a counter-proposal. Why don’t we just stamp their foreheads or make them wear clapboards that declare their “incompetency”. Oh, wait, in this culture we already do just by virtue of these people having more adipose tissue.

Also, I love that they think the foster system isn’t overloaded with children who actually need to be there anyways. This is the definition of privilege on many levels-to say that 1. there is a way to determine “too fat” 2. the foster system just has too many people willing to take in too few kids 3. class complications with this entire idea 4. race complications with this entire idea, as well as a host of other things I probably missed.


Alexie on July 13, 2011 at 3:22 pm.

The twats that advocated this could have NO IDEA about state care, in any country. I once rang social services about the family next door, who were clearly severely abusing their small children. The response? Nada. I didn’t know the children’s names or ages, so no action could be taken, even though I could describe blood curdling screams of pain and bizarre behaviour. After the family moved out, the next tenants told me about finding padlocked doors and psychotic items, like jars filled with cockroaches. God help those children. Children die all the time because social services are so overstretched they can’t cope with the many cases of very real and frightening abuse they come across. And often the ones who are put into care fall through the cracks and experience neglect and abuse anyway. And yet someone thinks that fat kids should be dropped into this horrible mess? What do they think? That the Good Fairy will wave her magic wand and turn these children into lovely little thin models who will go on to be upstanding citizens?


Rachael on July 13, 2011 at 4:44 pm.

This infuriates me for so many reasons, but I think the worst of it is that there is no acceptance of the societal role in this “problem” and everything is being blamed on the parents. If the powers that be have decided that obesity is a problem that needs to be addressed (and as a morbidly obese woman I don’t agree that it is, but if that is the determination they make) then they are doing a piss poor job of addressing the situation. Instead of saying to children to eat their vegetables and go outside and play why not pass a law limiting the number of fast food restaurants allowed in a given area? Why not improve public parks and other places where children could spend time being active? Why not make sure that there are decent sidewalks on every street and proper public transportation so that people aren’t stuck in food deserts? Why not put more money into public schools with the specific purpose of providing more physical education and nutritional classes for kids? Why not make it illegal for fast food, candy, and other unhealthy products to advertise during children’s programming?

If we as a nation are going to determine that this is a real health issue and that it needs to be fixed then we need to make changes on a societal level to address that. If we as a nation believe in the rights of individuals to make their own choices in life then we need to leave people alone and let them choose to eat whatever they like and feed their children whatever they like, even if that sometimes causes some people to be heavier than others.


Jenny Islander on July 13, 2011 at 7:03 pm.

Here’s what I want.

1. The National Playground Initiative. Every child–EVERY CHILD–who lives in a zero lot line property shall have a playground within X hundred meters. Hire people whose jobs went to Hell in the recession to build the playgrounds. Win-win.

2. The Neighborhood Cop Initiative. End our three(!!) wars, just declare victory and go home, and funnel some of that money to cities, earmarked to put a cop on every corner. Couple this with a massive publicity campaign encouraging little kids to like and trust cops again and a quieter initiative to retrain cops in police forces that are notorious for tasing first and asking questions later. Keep the playgrounds safe and make the general idea of running around outdoors a safe option. For the cherry on top, make people convicted of petty offenses work off their time cleaning and maintaining the playgrounds.

3. The Mom Vans. Pay supermarket chains to send vans to neighborhoods within a given radius. Stuff the vans with WIC-acceptable foods. That way, families that are eligible for WIC don’t have to figure out how to get every dependent who can’t be left home alone on the bus(es) and get the stuff home without the eggs breaking or the milk spoiling. The supermarket chains get the WIC checks and a nice subsidy on top.

4. The Mom and Pop Fund. If you, a sole proprietor, establish a store that sells food in a known food desert and keep it open for one calendar year, you get a 50 percent refund on your federal income tax. If you show a profit, you get a 100 percent refund. This program runs for 3 to 5 years per store location.

I think that would be a start.


Zoe Danger Awesome on July 14, 2011 at 12:16 pm.

I love everything about this comment!


Rosa on July 19, 2011 at 10:10 pm.

The No Padlocked Schoolyards initiative – if schools can’t make their playgrounds available to neighborhood children for cost or security reasons, give them funding. If they won’t for policy reasons, make them open them up.


Jami on July 13, 2011 at 5:24 pm.

Stuff like this drives me crazy because there are so many medical reasons a child might be obese that keep getting ignored. There has been serious links between obesity and allergies! Allergies cause inflammation, which slows down metabolism, which causes weight gain. Taking a child away from a loving parent because their untreated gluten allergy is making them fat is NOT going to help the child. And let’s face it, a lot of children put into foster care end up abused and even raped. So you’ve got a child who’s already an emotional wreck due to being bullied for being fat, throw them in with a pedophile, a social worker stretched too thin to check up on them, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

I’m sadly related by marriage to a very thin child who eats nothing but noodles and french fries. No meats, no vegetables, no fruits – and not even other forms of carbs. Just noodles and french fries loaded with ketchup. (I say unfortunately because his mother is a drug addict and a known slut who can’t support herself. Spreads her legs for any guy with two quarters in his pocket. And my drug addicted dead beat dad of a brother married this piece of trash.) If the boy doesn’t die of malnutrition, he’ll be the next John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy. He’s always threatening to kill people, even tried to pull a knife on my mom, and he’s 8 years old.

But according to the people who want to take fat kids away, he’s to be left with his drug addict mother and step-father because he’s thin and obviously “healthy.” Meanwhile, my idiot brother’s real son, the one he refuses to pay child support for, would be taken from the mother who loves him because he’s fat. (Well, if you had my brother for a dad you’d be an emotional wreck who eats too much too.) What my real nephew needs is a good therapist, not a foster home. While the evil step-nephew needs some intensive psycho therapy if not being flat out locked up before he carries through with his threats to kill everyone around him.


firefey on July 14, 2011 at 11:45 am.

i support your indignation here… but maybe without the slut shaming?


Novel deVice on July 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm.

Wow. As Firefey says, nice slut shaming.

Also, did it ever occur to you that your attitude toward his diet might be perpetuating some of his problems, never mind what appears to be your family’s profound disrespect toward his mother?

This child probably needs therapy and maybe someone in his house who knows how to prepare delicious, kid-friendly food, but you clearly need some kind of psychiatric help for your outrageously rude behaviour toward people who have the temerity to have sex lives you don’t approve of.


BuffPuff on July 15, 2011 at 11:37 am.

Wooh, nice character assassination there. Or should I call it prude shaming? Either way, it was pretty outrageous too.


firefey on July 18, 2011 at 7:56 pm.

yeah, stating she needs therapy is way out of line here.


Joyce on July 13, 2011 at 5:39 pm.

This whole idea creeps me out and makes me sad. It sounds like eugenics to me. Like the dominant culture wants to systematically wipe out people like me.


Bree on July 13, 2011 at 7:27 pm.

(Reposted from my comment at Round Shape):

It would be very interesting to see what these proponents of “take the fat kids away” would say if all their re-education and forced dieting attempts failed and the kids either didn’t lose any weight or lost not enough for their liking. At that point, they shouldn’t even blame it on the kid because they were away from the home, the alleged problem in the first place.

I think we as a society should be worried more about kids who are suffering actual abuse—physical, sexual, verbal, mental—not threatening to remove children from possibly good homes simply because their bodies aren’t small enough for a doctor’s liking. Also, this reeks of class warfare, since the majority of the fat-ranters have enough money to buy healthier foods and probably live in areas where you can exercise and be active, whereas many of the fat children come from poorer neighborhoods where there may be less access to both “fresher foods” and places to play, as well as many parents who rely on public transit to get from point A to point B and if you’ve used it, you know how unreliable it can be sometimes. Before we start coming up with harsh tactics to shame these families, we (and I mean the doctor and people who think like him) need to take a closer look at the factors that influence whether kids will be big, and I don’t mean McDonald’s and video games.

*I also want to add that I work for a infant & toddler early intervention program and our office is located at a school exclusively for students with disabilities. Many of the children who attend this school and/or go to summer camp there are very large. Would it really benefit these children, who are dealing with developmental issues already in an environment that isn’t that friendly to them in the first place, to be taken away from their families and languish in foster care? How come these fat-shamers don’t think of these things? I guess they’re too busy lumping fat individuals into one diabetic coma of a hive mind, again.


Devin on July 13, 2011 at 8:40 pm.

Thanks Lesley for offering your perspective on this issue. Seeing that headline last night made me want to scream and rant, so your blog instantly came to mind 🙂

Reading through the comments, I agree that states can’t judge every case of “extreme obesity” as neglect. There are so many things going on in our bodies that we can’t even begin to fully understand; metabolism is a very complex mechanism and any number of genetic predispositions can determine a person’s healthy weight. Stating that obesity is solely caused by overeating is an oversimplification of the issue. I noticed that the article I sent you was vague regarding the “special diets” these kids were placed on once in the foster care system. I wonder how many of those kids were placed on special diets because of food allergies or medical conditions the parents were unaware of in the first place.

Let’s take a look at the opposite situation: parents forcing their children to diet. It’s one thing to force-feed your kid eat peas and carrots (usually with the best of intentions), but I think it’s neglectful when parents put their children on restrictive, unnecessary crash diets in order to keep their kids thin. Shouldn’t starving your children be considered a greater offense? If we want to promote children’s health, we need to include children of all shapes, sizes, weights, races, classes and include all food groups. There’s too much stigma for fat children, and although this issue is much more serious, I find it’s akin to the whole “plus size clothing encourages us to be fat” line of reasoning, where a system is essentially trying to force a person to fit a particular mold. It’s sad and frightening and as a biology researcher (in a different field), I don’t feel the medical community should release these opinionated pieces to influence policy without a better basis of fact.


Lydia on July 13, 2011 at 9:08 pm.

I heard about this horseshit on the news this morning, and my first reaction was this: when there are no more children living in abusive situations because they have all been removed, then we can worry about the fatties.

I don’t know what the situation is like in other parts of the world, but here in Australia, there aren’t enough foster carers for the abused children, let alone for fat kids removed from perfectly good homes. Given also that a large number of abused children removed from their families are placed with foster carers who also abuse them, one has to wonder if they will get even fatter once removed, thereby defeating the purpose of the whole bloody thing.

I think this is academic pie-in-the-sky, and once the costs of this insane proposal are considered, and the relevant authorities realise the difficulty in imlementing such a scheme, it will die an early death and be buried in a pauper’s grave alongside other similalry dumb proposals like fat people and smokers being banned from accessing the health system and fatties being forced to weigh in before flights.

If this ludicrious idea were to develop legs, it would be an insult to all the children currently trapped in rancid, abusive homes, who as we speak are being raped, molested and flogged by their useless, cruel parents, and who have been summarily failed by the authorities.


jaed on July 13, 2011 at 9:21 pm.

An ideal solution would diversify and improve the dietary choices and eating habits for all kids

No. An ideal solution would be to have doctors act like doctors and diagnose the reason for weight gain. Massive weight gain does not happen for no reason; there’s a medical or psychological cause. (Having “fast food restaurants in the neighborhood” does not suddenly change the body shape of people in that neighborhood. Neither does lack of playgrounds, parks, buses, or anything else. A bad diet has health impacts but it doesn’t normally cause a big change in weight.)

If a child is extremely large, something else is going on. That something else should be looked for, diagnosed, and treated. It is very unlikely that forced semi-starvation and stringent exercise of the kind being proposed will turn out to be appropriate treatment for any of the conditions likely to cause massive weight gain, any more than it’s a treatment for adults with high weight. We like simple solutions. We live in a society where disordered attitudes about food and eating are common, so we think promulgating these attitudes – teaching kids that candy is “unhealthy”, banning sale of certain demonized foods such as hamburger sandwiches, mandating a certain amount of exercise – will fix this sort of thing. It won’t, any more than yanking children out of their homes will.

(And shame on doctors who blame parents and children instead of looking for causes for a medical condition.)


JupiterPluvius on July 15, 2011 at 11:21 pm.

“Too many calories” isn’t necessarily the cause, either. Many people whose weight falls into the “obese” category eat fewer calories daily than the recommended minimums.

This is most dramatically true among children who are characterized both as “obese” and as “living in poverty,” as this study shows.

The “calories in, calories out” mantra is one of the most toxic superstitions currently gripping the fields of medicine and public health.


Meowser on July 13, 2011 at 10:06 pm.

This “doctor” is a nincompoop. (Gads, but I love that word.)

How can you have an MD degree and not know that the very fattest kids are the ones most likely to be on highly fattening psych meds and neuroleptics? What’s the first thing the thin foster family is going to do when they find out about that? That’s right — get the kid off the drugs pronto. Granted, some of those kids might be misprescribed those drugs, or in some cases, the meds have already served their purpose and can be safely (and gradually) discontinued. But discontinuing is not something you do without a LOT of preparation and forethought. I shudder to think how many kids are going to have terrible mental health episodes or seizures that could potentially kill them or make them very, very sick because people are so panicked about their weight.

But as others have mentioned above, U.S. states are already financially strapped and cutting their budgets to ribbons. Hard to see how they’re going to come up with more dough (see what I did there?) to increase the number of thin foster parents with all-organic yuppiefood diets by a lot — which they’d have to do, because when the first set of foster parents didn’t make the kid thin, they’d put the kid in yet another home…right?


Amber on July 13, 2011 at 10:46 pm.

Thank you for being the only voice I read on this today that made me *not* feel like jumping out a window.


Meowser on July 13, 2011 at 11:50 pm.

Also, I wonder how many parents are going to withhold medications from their kids solely because of the weight-gain side effects (or how many kids will simply refuse to take them), even if those medications might save those kids’ lives (or at least allow them to HAVE lives). Again, meds are not the answer for everybody, but they are a lifeline for some of us.


EverSoRandom on July 14, 2011 at 11:26 am.

When my dad died when I was 8, I had no coping mechanism for the fact that my life was spinning wildly out of control. So instead, I internalized the pain and gained weight. To this day, when I stress, I gain weight. Had I been taken away from my only surviving parent and thrust into a home with people I didn’t know, I probably would have been three times as fat as well as suicidal. How on earth anyone could propose subjecting kids to the psychological damage of being ripped from their family over how much they weigh astounds me.


Zoe Danger Awesome on July 14, 2011 at 12:20 pm.

Holy shit

its times like these I wonder if it will ever get better. How on earth do we fix this society. Its so overwhelming and depressing.

I mean, taking kids away from there families. God gods. I can’t imagine being taking away from my parents. They are the best parents in a the world. And they feed me organic healthy food, and I am still fat. And one of my brothers is overweight according to his wii fit, his nine, and never stops moving. I just…i don’t even.

This idea disgusts me in every way possible. And I just want to go crawl in bed and cry into a pint of ice cream. I have never want to punch a person so much as those havard researchers. Or I could just sit on their faces with my fat ass.



mary on July 15, 2011 at 8:40 am.

another horribly misguided article…


firefey on July 18, 2011 at 7:55 pm.

so, apparently this is going to be discussed on NPR’s fresh air tomorrow. part of me is hopeful, and the rest is shuddering…

debating if i’m going to listen or not.


DeAun on July 22, 2011 at 10:20 pm.

Here is my question: will the state not allow fat foster parents? Will they turn away desperately needed new foster parents for that reason? My partner and I have discussed fostering. We are both heavy and have never fit into the thin category even at our most vibrantly healthy. I will be a doctor soon and am well versed in nutrition and am going to focus my practice on health and well being under the HAES model. I think we would be wonderful foster parents, but I bet our size will be a hindrance.

Then again, if it isn’t, how hypocritical would it be to pull a fat child from a loving family to go live with another loving fat family…. Something to think about.


Alyssa on August 1, 2011 at 8:04 pm.

Id leave the country before Id let anyone take my babies away from me. I do very much worry for my children, and how they’ll be treated if one happens to be large. Im sure one of them will be, just based on me and my husband. I was a size 12 by age 11 and my husband is husky thanks to his dad. I don’t know what Im going to do if they get to school and have to put up with hateful comments not just by the kids but the adults. I want my kids to love themselves whatever body they have. I don’t want my parenting to be unraveled because of some mean words said by others.


Nordette on August 15, 2011 at 12:13 pm.

So, these researchers apparently have done some kind of study that says no children in foster care are overweight, I suppose. *SMH* Where are the glowing stories of children who lost weight in foster care and kept it off and were happy, too? I don’t see how taking a child away from parents is a good thing for the child, who will undoubtedly internalize the blame, and the recommendation causes me to wonder whether any of these researchers were ever children or have had children.

I was a fat kid. My mother, a social worker and later a school teacher, would have been devastated if anyone had tried to take me away from her and my father. But with pressure mounting to have me thin, I was placed on Weight Watchers when I was about 12. It worked. The weight came off, but later it went back on. My mother was herself an “emotional eater” whose weight fluctuated. She had issues, but don’t we all? I don’t see how taking me from the family would have helped me or anyone else. God. As I think about this I can only imagine extreme heartbreak on all sides.

I’m so sick of people who have never dealt personally with the complexities of managing their weight or having an emotional relationship with food or the pressure be thin because you’ve been deemed obese telling others how to live their lives. And only those who have lived with the pressure understand how the constant criticism never helps. And I’m sick of being judged for being fat when I know damn well I’m not eating anymore than the thin person next to me; sometimes I’m eating less and exercising more. Let me stop before my whole morning is ruined with evil thoughts.


polly on August 29, 2011 at 3:08 pm.

This is great. Nothing can can make this better the way a bunch of fat kids starting to starve themselves for fear of losing their parents and going to foster care can. Way to fucking go. After all, kids so frightened as to develop EDs are so much closer to “the ideal” than happy fat kids in acceptable-if-not-perfect biological families.
Get skinny, fat kid! Save the family!
/massive amount of sarcasm


Annie C. on September 8, 2011 at 8:42 pm.

I got a letter from my son’s preschool today about not bringing in food for birthdays. Mostly it cited allergies as the reason, but it also contained this gem of logic: “These foods just add to problems such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cavities.”

Please, Lesley, if by some chance I’m blessed with ridiculously good luck and you read this comment….how would you rebut this? I’m feeling pretty irritated that giving my son a cupcake and juice on his birthday is now being considered child abuse!


Kristen on February 19, 2012 at 11:34 pm.

Holy crap. I once read somewhere that there’s a much greater percentage of sociopaths at top colleges than in the general public. After reading this I’m inclined to believe it’s true.

We ALREADY institutionalize our children way too much. My aunt went through a messy relationship with a long time alcoholic partner. They’d get the police called to their house for the fights a couple times a month. Finally, after my aunt kicked her awful girlfriend out, about a week later with absolutely no word of warning authorities came and took her daughter away and put her in foster care. My mom and I were there with her for emotional support when she met with her case worker, who told my aunt that she needed to get a hold of herself and not cry because it made her look “unstable”, to which my aunt [sobbing] responded, “how can I not cry, you took my daughter from me”.

Anyway after nearly a year my aunt has her daughter back and out of foster care finally… but seriously, THIS is the kind of system that they think we should put fat kids in? My cousin was shuffled from foster home to foster home every couple of months. During this time she was in an evangelical christian’s home who repeatedly told her her mother was a sinner, then in a house where she had to sleep on the floor because the woman didn’t actually have enough beds for all the foster kids, then was in a home in a seriously dangerous part of the city, then was in a home where she got beat up by another kid. Yeah.

Having been The Fat Kid I know that, if all that crying that I did in PE thanks to the humiliation I suffered didn’t turn me skinny, AND my parents’ gentle-but-constant chiding about my weight didn’t work, AND my best friend telling me “you have such a pretty face, you’d be so pretty if you just lost some weight” didn’t melt away my pounds, CLEARLY foster care would’ve been the only solution. ugh


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