27 February, 2007

Fat Babies Are Bad, Government Intervention Required

Sigh. I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness sometimes.

It's taken me a long time to morph into a libertarian, primarily because I'm leery of the misconception that all libertarians are Republicans who want to smoke pot. (By the way, if you are one of the people who has said that to me recently please realise that you're not clever and that's only the 9000000th time I've heard it.)

I started with a libertarian school of thought because of something my mother said to me when I was probably ten or eleven. I told her I thought the government should take away my relative's child because they smoked around her. My mom countered with "how would you like the government to take you away from me because I'm fat?"

That introduced me to the concept of the dangers of a nanny state. That someone would actually think my parents were unfit just because they were overweight was both annoying and scary to me. Back then, though, I rested comfortably in the notion that my mom was using hyperbole to make her case.

Hyperbole until now, that is. Sarah Moore writes this morning in praise of the British government's attempts to take custody of a fat 8 year-old from his parents. They're fat, he's fat. Clearly they will destroy him with their fatness, so the government must--For The Children--step in. Moore claims the child is abused because his incredible fatness will get him mocked throughout life and possibly lead to diabetes. So clearly the best thing here would be for the British Government to raise the boy.

You know what? I agree. I think mockery and the potential for later disease is a very good reason for the State to intervene in any private family. That's why I think we should take all children away from single parents. Studies show that children do best with a mother and a father under the same roof. And there are still bullies who mock kids from single-parent households. So let's have the government step in here.

I also think we should take children away from all bi-racial couples. Clearly they will be mocked, and they are of course subject to various genetic conditions depending on the race of the couple.

Furthermore, I think it is abusive to raise a child in a Muslim or Jewish or athiest household. This is a Christian nation. If you are not a Christian you will be mocked. And you may have a genetic predispostion to Taye-Sachs or alcoholism or whatever. We'll come up with something. Meanwhile, the State will step in.

Ah, what a brave new world!

If I ever do have a baby, I'll make sure to have you all at the weekly inspections of his health. After all, I'm fat and can't be trusted to parent my child.


At 11:32 AM, February 27, 2007, Anonymous Captain Bringdown said...

Darn,Kat,I think the world is coming to an end.you are starting to sometimes make sense,and it scares the crap outta me.I don't know if you're getting more mellow,or my meds are starting to work.
Oh,well,back to the rubber room!

At 11:56 AM, February 27, 2007, Blogger Chance said...

I have nothing to say except that you are awesome.

At 12:13 PM, February 27, 2007, Blogger Glen Dean said...

Good points Katherine.

At 12:43 PM, February 27, 2007, Blogger dolphin said...

Yeah, I sent that story to you a few weeks ago through the email on your blogger profile.

Anybody want to take bets on whether somebody will come around and mistake the sarcasm in the last half of the post for serious suggestions?

At 12:53 PM, February 27, 2007, Blogger Kat Coble said...

Clearly there is a problem with my blogger profile email (mycropht at excite dot com) because this is like the third or fourth time someone has said they sent me an email that I didn't get. I remain disgruntled...

I should put a disclaimer on the front page that tells people my real email is

k dot coble at comcast dot net

At 1:33 PM, February 27, 2007, Blogger Aunt B said...

My secret crush on you remains unabated.

Great post.

At 2:22 PM, February 27, 2007, Anonymous nm said...

To play Devil's Advocate here, I just want to point out that we do give the state the right to intervene in parental decisions affecting the health of their minor children. Jehovah's Witnesses can be forced to let their children have blood transfusions when necessary; laetrile lovers can be forced to put their children through proven cancer therapies. These are, to be sure, crisis situations. Is that kid in a crisis situation? It isn't clear. In pictures, he looks to be about 120 pounds too heavy for his height, and he's only 8 years old. His parents won't take him to see a physician who might tell them whether or not he's got hormonal or other sorts of problems that can be dealt with.

In fact, as I am reading the story, it seems that the authorities are considering removing the child from his parents' custody NOT because he's fat, but because the parents won't take him to a doctor. That's a whole different issue, to me.

At 4:53 PM, February 27, 2007, Blogger egalia said...

I second the world coming to an end thing. You make a whole lot of sense to me. Thanks for saying it so well.

At 5:11 PM, February 27, 2007, Blogger Kat Coble said...

Man. Any day where both CB and egalia think that I make sense, coupled with having a dream baby in the Hooters Capital of the World is one Terry Gilliam of a wierd day.

At 5:28 PM, February 27, 2007, Blogger Kat Coble said...


I don't necessarily condone the intervention in the case of a child's health. Granted, I tend to look at it in a case-by-case basis, but I'm open about being not in favour of forced immunisation, transfusions for Jehovah's Witnesses, antibiotics for Christian Scientists, etc. One of the drawbacks of growing up in a heavily Mennonite/Amish community is the clinging stubborn belief in the freedom to worship and raise one's children within the scope of one's belief.

As for the health problems of the boy in question, I don't doubt that he may have one or two. Should his parents take him to a doctor? Hmmm. Given the vast amount of anti-fat prejudice out there, any fat person will tell you that going to a doctor isn't necessarily good for your health. I would point you the examples of all the folks who died on Phen-fen. Or have heart problems subsequent to being put on a "doctor-supervised" fasting diet. I'll be the first to tell you that in any number of cases a physician is NOT the answer to one's problems that we would be led to believe. I mean, here am I with a host of non-weight-related problems and I can't get decent treatment from any number of physicians. Whose to say that these parents should be forced to make their kid see a doctor?

Sure, I'm stretching the point and I think that it'd be a good idea for the kid to eat healthy and exercise and I know he's got a hard life ahead of him, etc. But I'm not really eager to start the slippery slope of judgment here.

Bottom line is that attitudes like Sarah Moore's--of seeing fat parents with their fat kids in McDonalds and being disgusted--bug the krep out of me in a big way. It's prejudice cloaked in moral superiority.

At 8:18 PM, February 27, 2007, Anonymous Miss O'Hara said...

Amen, Kat.

At 8:31 PM, February 27, 2007, Blogger Malia said...

Man I envy your brain! If I could be half as articulate as you I would be very happy.

At 8:57 PM, February 27, 2007, Anonymous nm said...

Well, if she doesn't like seeing them at McDonald's she can eat somewhere else. I'm just not sure that the authorities in this case are coming from the same place she is, is all.

At 8:20 AM, February 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aunt B. says

I'm of mixed feelings about this, because, if the kid does have some medical problem that the weight is a symptom of, it is wrong for his parents not to get him help.

But if he's just fat and the doctors and the authorities are all "If that kid comes in here again and hasn't lost any weight, we're taking him from you," it'd be very easy for me to understand how folks, knowing that their kid hasn't lost any weight, might avoid going back to the doctor.

It doesn't make it right, but it seems to me to be a very human response--that, if you knew an unsuccessful trip to the doctor might result in you losing your kid, you'd avoid the doctor.

I can't help but think that a different approach by the doctors or the police other thant "We are the authorities and you will do what we say and any deviance from it means we will take your child!" might be more successful.

At 10:00 AM, February 28, 2007, Blogger Chance said...

"I can't help but think that a different approach by the doctors or the police other thant "We are the authorities and you will do what we say and any deviance from it means we will take your child!" might be more successful."

What you say sounds very sensible. After all, the government can take the middle road, a sensible approach to the problem. Moderation is very good,but unfortunately, moderation is not in the government's vocabulary.

At 2:15 PM, February 28, 2007, Anonymous Shawn said...

Hi, this is my first time to this blog, but I hope you don't mind my comment.

I agree that a govt should not remove children in this type of situation. It's a little too hands-on for my taste. However, how do we isolate the cost of poor parenting to those parents? In this case, let's say that later on that kid has heart problems or diabetes as a result of his diet. Indirectly, my medical insurance is going to increase to pay for his medical care. Or maybe it's parents that don't use a child safety seat and their child is paralyzed in a car accident incurring tax costs for us. Kids raised into crime that we pay taxes to imprison would be another example.

Obviously accidents and medical situations will occur. But are the people who deliberately put their children on a collision course with these situations impacting the rest of us? Multiply these one off stories by 100,000 and we have a nation weighed down with issues.

How do we make the people who create these situations accountable for the impact? Or do we try and prevent their poor decision making? We all know that educating them is ineffective, and we disagree with interfering. So what do we do?

I understand that we're all in the same country so we have to carry one another. I guess I'm just tired of paying the bill for irresponsible people.

At 2:02 PM, March 01, 2007, Anonymous magniloquence said...

*waves to Kat*

Hi! I talk to you all the time at Aunt B's, but this is the first time I've ventured all the way over to your sandbox.

This was a great post on a subject that's really annoying. Aside from the huge enforcement issues (though the recent measures involving teachers and students provide scary opportunities to make that easier), the whole situation is rife with prejudice and misinformation.

Yes, obesity can absolutely affect a person's health, and can be a symptom (or a contributing cause) of some major health problems. Yes, people ought exercise and eat healthily. And yes, parents are largely responsible for providing an environment in which their kids have as many opportunities for their children to do these things as possible. But the "fat kid == neglectful parents" paradigm is silly and bigoted.

My biggest issue with it is that there are huge structural issues at play. I don't know what the socioeconomic makeup of Wallsend, North Tyneside is, so I can't comment for this particular instance, but there are huge numbers of people for whom it is simply impractical-to-the-point-of-near-impossibility to get their children healthy food all the time. (see: the Food Insecure discussion at Aunt B's). Should you take a child away when the parents are doing the best they can in difficult circumstances? Surely it is at least kinder to offer assistance rather than punitive measures of this sort. (Not to mention less expensive; making a child a ward of the state is an incredibly expensive, difficult proposition. Not that any one person or agency is well-funded, but the sheer amount of paperwork involved generates a significant amount of cost. Let alone feeding, clothing, and educating the child, monitoring its placement, training all of the people involved in each step of this process, and so on)

Being the crazy tree-hugging liberal I am, I'm not entirely opposed to government intervention, even in matters like non-infectious health problems. This is just stupid though. The government should be helping us to help ourselves, not taking away our children because we didn't do what they told us to do. Problems like this undermine self-sufficiency, and directly contravene the definitions and statutes we already have in place. It shoots itself in the foot, and takes us all with it.

Neglect is not feeding your child, or never taking them to a doctor when you (have the means and) have no religious compulsion not to. Neglect would be not trying to do anything about the child's problem, which is clearly not what had happened in this article. Although it is the article reports "the family had repeatedly failed to attend appointments with nurses, nutritionists and social workers," it also notes that "Connor's mother said he steals and hides food, frustrating her efforts to help him." (my emphasis) Aunt B. addressed why they might not want to go to these appointments; it's still clear that they are at least trying. Including this under "neglect" misstates the problem and opens dangerous doors.

At 2:24 PM, March 01, 2007, Anonymous magniloquence said...

To respond to Shawn:

How do we make the people who create these situations accountable for the impact? Or do we try and prevent their poor decision making? We all know that educating them is ineffective, and we disagree with interfering. So what do we do?

While I don't exactly agree with where you're coming from (the libertarian impulse to only pay for what one is directly using is anathema to me, but not something that I'd particularly like to debate in this thread. I do, however, completely understand the impulse to want to decrease unnecessary expenditure, especially on preventible conditions; no one should need to suffer if we can do anything about it (and if they aren't suffering, we aren't paying for it).), I did want to address the latter part.

I'm interested in seeing your evidence for stating that "[we] all know that educating them is ineffective." I don't have any numbers for obesity (largely because I haven't looked), but for things like sex education, educating people on possibilities and responsibility absolutely does. I see no reason to think that nutrition and exercise would be any different.

The problem with education is that it's useless without access. Many of the major contributors to our growing ill-health are the results of structural problems. Poor neighborhoods are less likely to have access to fresh groceries (if groceries at all, and not simply packaged food or convenience stores) and parks, more likely to be severely polluted, and more likely to be (considered) unsafe for walking. People are more likely to need to take buses to where they need to go, and more likely to work multiple jobs, all of which severely limit opportunities to eat well and exercise. As Aunt B. points out (even though she was talking about something else at the time) access matters. You can't magically decree that people need to just eat right without making it possible for them to do so.

This problem is especially exacerbated in schools, where captive audiences and lack of funding mean that schools are increasingly turning to deals with major companies (Pizza Hut, Gatorade, etc.) to help their funding. A major part side effect is a preponderance of vending machines and fast food options for lunch. Even in schools without direct ties to fast food companies, the school lunch providers all too often have to rely on heavily salted and preserved canned food, rather than preparing fresh, healthy food. Alternatives are expensive.

Compounding that is the problem of space. Schools are becoming more crowded as facilities fail, money gets short, and our populations grow. To accomodate the extra students, schools generally wind up cannibalizing fields and recess areas to put new (often "temporary") buildings. This means less space for kids to play, and more emphasis on small, sedentary games. Increased reliance on standardized testing and more rigid guidelines mandating subjects and timelines for students has meant a drastic reduction in the amount of PE time allotted during the normal school year anyway, because the school needs to spend more time preparing students for their various tests.

If your neighborhood doesn't have a place to play, and your school doesn't have a place to play, and you don't have easy access to good food, then how are you going to stay healthy?

(In upper- and middle- class neighborhoods the problem is often less with lack of areas to play than with the increasing cultural shift toward scheduled activity, in which children are shuttled from one activity to another. That, combined with the nationwide push toward more homework and test teaching (regardless of whether the homework and teaching actually help students) means that children overall have less time and opportunity to be active.)

All of that to say ... what we do is we make it possible for people to use their education. Teach them about healthy food and work on getting grocery stores into every neighborhood. Fund things that you yourself will probably never personally use. Public transportation needs to be improved. The school system in general needs more money and a completely revamped structure. Create incentives for people to be active.

For the cost of tracking us all and taking away kids who don't meet the (completely arbitrary and unequally enforced) 'standards' (or, you know, for the cost of some of those new bombers, or the annual raises for some very rich people), we could do this.

If people have every opportunity to help themselves and their children, and the education and resources to do so, and they still refuse to do so, then we can talk about draconian measures. But until then, we're just missing the big picture.

At 4:00 AM, October 23, 2007, Blogger dave stewart said...

Perhaps people should take a look at the article in question.

There's something wrong when an 8 year old boy weighs 14 stone (in the USA or any country); THREE times the average for his age.

One National Health Service source said: “We have attempted many times to arrange for Connor to have appointments with community and paediatric nutritionists, public health experts, school nurses and social workers to weigh and measure him and to address his diet, but the appointments have been missed.

“Taking the child into care or putting him on the child protection register is absolutely the last resort. We do not do these things lightly but we have got to consider what effect this life-style is having on his health. Child abuse is not just about hitting your children or sexually abusing them, it is also about neglect.”


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