The right to be fat

December 4, 2011

Political Theory


America is by far the fattest country in the world. The next fattest country as measured by percentage of obese citizens is Mexico. Don’t worry we are in the lead by a large margin Mexico is over 6% skinnier than America. This is not a new issue; obesity has been in the news, on television, and movies (Supersize Me) for years and years. To be considered overweight you need a BMI (Body Mass Index) higher than 25, but with a BMI greater than 30 you are considered obese. Approximately one third of the adults in the U.S. are considered obese and about 17% of children and teenagers are considered obese.

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In Cleveland a young eight year old boy weighing in excess of 200lbs was actually taken from his home by the state and placed in a foster home. He was placed in foster care after developing sleep apnea (abnormal breathing patterns or shallow breaths while sleeping) and failing to lose weight after developing this condition. Social workers actually worked with his mother to help him to lose weight before he was removed from his home. It was deemed that the mother at fault was not doing enough to slim he son down. Being obese has serious health risks. It has been linked to causing diabetes, high blood pressure, liver and heart problems. To have a child taken from your custody the parents have to be providing an unsafe home environment or be deemed unfit for the safety and welfare of the child.

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There were multiple breaches of social contracts in this situation. The social contract of being a mother is to provide for and take care of her child. She actually endangered her kid by overproviding him with food, and making him an extreme risk for weight related issues. Her son also violated his social contract. All he had to do was to listen to his mother when she was trying to get him to lose weight. But he disregarded his mother, and actually ate more to gain back the weight he had lost. This caused the controlling agency (Ohio state government) to step in and take action on this issue.

This issue poses a few questions for me. Is this going to set a precedent where the government takes morbidly obese children and places them in state care? Is a government system allowed to do this or are they over stepping their boundary by actually removing her son from her custody, when he arguably led a happy and safe life? Also is it an ethical use of tax payer dollars to provide him with a state appointed personal trainer?

 According to Hobbes “And of covenants without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure the man at all”, which makes the actions by the government to be justifiable in enforcing the social contract between the government and the mother slimming her son down. The government was just enforcing their social contract because words are just words unless they are actually enforced. After they are enforced they become contracts. Also according to Hobbes as long as the government is legitimate and has the power to do take a child into protective custody then they are allowed to.  If this action is allowed then the Leviathan is authorized by the populous to continue to do this, setting a precedent to use taxpayer dollars to help fat children keep their weight under control. Hobbes would justify the government taking a kid into foster care from being dangerously overweight. 

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About weimarj

student in poli sci 101 at michigan

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4 Comments on “The right to be fat”

  1. ywjpeter Says:

    This story is very interesting. Here you have a boy that is obese, and clearly is having health problems. The boy obviously enjoys food and wants to eat a lot, but is taking that enjoyment away from him overstepping boundaries, or as a parent is one obligated to do the best for the child? The state enters into this story and takes away the child from the mom because she isn’t “doing enough to help the child”. What constitutes “enough” and what constitutes the state to have such authority. I think a lot of questions arise from this article because it seems so controversial. How can a child be taken away from biological parents and given to someone else for this reason. It seems almost unheard of and a clear overstepping of boundaries by the state. I think this is truly a sad story, and I do hope he is receiving treatment and care for his problems, but at the same time as a human being I would be appalled if I was the parent. As a normal citizen I also do not feel the obligation to help this child, therefore my tax money being invested and allocated into this project seems unjustified.

  2. rachdavidson Says:

    I don’t think this issue is as simple as you have made it out to be. Obesity isn’t as easy to overcome, as to simply listen to someone telling you not to eat. If it was, then obesity would cease to exist. In addition, some people are prone to obesity, so the mother may not have known she was overfeeding her child until it was too late.

    I think it makes little sense to remove a child from a mother’s care due to obesity. I understand mandating certain check ins with social services, or closely monitoring the relationship between the son and the mother, however, to remove a child from his mother seems rather extreme. I understand obesity is an extreme matter, but it is unlikely that a foster family will care for the obese child as much as the mother would. Thus, not only is the child losing his constant source of love and support, he also is not gaining much in return. I think obesity is a huge issue in our country, and we need to find better ways to combat it than just dumping the problem on another person.

  3. Matthew Vlasic Says:

    I mostly agree with the last commenter, but I also think that it is not THAT extreme to take a child away from a mother who is doing a poor job taking care of him. The mother of this little boy is clearly not doing what she is supposed to do and while some people are born on the heavier side, there are always things that can be done to fight against the unhealthy lifestyle of being overweight. It is extremely difficult to fight against obesity and its effects on human health, but I feel like trying new things and taking small steps cannot hurt once one has gotten so unhealthy that immediate action is necessary.

    Obviously, this boy wasn’t doing well while living in that household, so it is SOMEWHAT justified to take him away from his mother in a certain sense. Maybe a good idea would be to take him away and try to improve his health and weight and train the mother on parental skills and then return him to his family. I would not support the government taking him away for a long period of time, but I think that it’s not that bad of an idea to move him away from that household judging on how unhealthy he is. Above all, this is a sad situation because the child will either be taken away from his mother for a period of time or he will likely remain unhealthy. I agree that we need to start doing more to improve the health of American citizens because obesity is a very serious problem in our society.

  4. thelenj1 Says:

    I think it is definitely within the states right to take a child from their home for being obese. At the age of eight a child is not making a majority of his own decisions. By feeding your child or allowing him to eat that much a parent is putting their kids in danger. This could potentially kill the child and if not kill lead to many horrible health problems, so I do not see how obesity is any different than hitting or not feeding one’s children. They are all abuse and no child should be allowed to live in a home with such conditions. There should be a certain age though, before 18, where a child should not be allowed to be taken from their home because of their weight because at some point a child decides what they will eat and even if the problem stems from the parents it would be difficult to for certain decide the cause. I also believe it is ethical to provide a child with a trainer paid for by the state. Obesity is a serious problem, that truly is life threatening and should not be taken lightly. By having a trainer a child would learn healthy habits early and probably would save the state a lot of money from health care bills in the long run.

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