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Childhood obesity could play part in custody determination

Childhood obesity has been a hot-button topic for some time now. According to statistics, approximately 17 percent of children ranging in age from 2 to 19 years in the U.S. are obese. That translates to roughly 12.5 million individuals. Reports show that the prevalence of childhood obesity has tripled since 1980. The complications of childhood obesity include an increased risk for liver problems, hypertension and diabetes. These health concerns are partly the reason why obesity has become part of custody determinations in some states.

In a child custody case last October, an 8-year-old boy was taken away from his mother and placed with a foster family because he was obese. According to court records, he weighed more than 200 pounds. Officials with Cuyahoga County, Ohio, had worked with the boy's mother for more than a year and decided that the boy's obesity reflected her neglect.

This case, and others like it, has many debating whether obesity should be used in a custody determination. According to the Obesity Action Coalition, the public should recognize that obesity is complex and it has numerous causes that involve societal, environmental, genetic and biological factors. According to the group, child or parental behavior is not the sole reason for a child's obesity.

Despite the opinion of the OAC, two Harvard University researchers suggested that states should intervene in such cases. Parent training, education and temporary protective custody of the child could be implemented to ensure the child returns to his or her parent in the long run. Many believe that protective custody should only be used in the most extreme of cases. If education and parental training are successful, the family will not be separated.

But what about in divorce cases? According to a mental health counseling expert, an obese child may be experiencing another form of neglect. If one parent can prove that this neglect is occurring, it is likely that a judge will take it into consideration because the best interests of the child are at stake.

Source: South Source, "Child Obesity Becoming A Legal Custody Issue," Darice Britt, May 7, 2012

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