On obesity in the state of Mississippi

Published 3:01 pm Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Greenwood (Miss.) Commonwealth

There is no question that obesity is a major health issue in the United States, especially here in Mississippi. According to most surveys, we have more fat folks per capita than any other state.

Obesity, ironically, is a byproduct of poverty and lack of education in this country. As a rule, poor people without much schooling are fatter than those with good jobs and college degrees. That’s because not many people go hungry in a land with food stamps and welfare, but too many make uninformed choices on what they eat and how much they exercise.

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The problem is being addressed in various ways, including healthier menus in school lunch rooms and various educational and promotional efforts from both private and public agencies. That’s good.

But some ideas on controlling bad habits and poor choices go too far.

The worst one we’ve heard lately is in the form of a commentary in the respected Journal of the American Medical Association of all places. It suggests that certain parents of extremely obese children should lose custody for not controlling their kids’ weight.

The Associated Press reports that its authors — Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Harvard-affiliated Children’s Hospital Boston, and Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and a researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health — “are joining a quiet chorus of advocates who say the government should be allowed to intervene in extreme cases” of child obesity.

Ludwig is quoted as saying 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.”

No doubt there are plenty of bad parents everywhere — a problem social workers cope with every day. Sometimes kids have to be taken away from parents because of abuse, including malnutrition. Perhaps a case could be made in rare instances that letting a kid get too obese is as bad as not feeding him enough.

But we don’t expect it’s going to happen, and we can only imagine the problems that would arise if some government agency attempted to remove a child from his home because he was too fat.