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Could having an obese child cause a parent to lose custody?

If you are the parent of an overweight child, you may be concerned for them on several levels. On the one hand, you don't want to see your child get bullied for being overweight, with all the accompanying social stigmas that can bring.

But even more than that, you have serious concerns about your child's health at their present weight. What's more, you see that your child may be developing some very unhealthy eating habits that are definitely contributing to the problem. Also, you suspect that their custodial parent (who also happens to be overweight) might be a big contributing factor to your child's weight problem.

Could you seek custody of your child based on your fears?

It's possible that you might not only seek custody but be awarded it by the California family law courts if your child is indeed obese according to the medical definition of the word. No court is going to remove a child from the custodial parent's home for being a few pounds heavier than their peers of similar height and age. But a child who is grossly overweight is at real risk of developing a plethora of health problems that could shorten their lifespans.

The younger and heavier the child, the greater the role the parent has in that child's nutrition and feeding. It might be impossible to monitor an overweight teenager's diet. But a toddler or young child who remains dependent on their parent to purchase and prepare their meals and who is very overweight has little say in the ingredients used or even portion control.

In those cases, it is up to the custodial parent to provide nutritional meals that are not full of empty calories for their kids. Allowing a child to consume unhealthy amounts of food or to prepare and serve only high-calorie foods and sugar-laden desserts and snacks is setting that child up for a lifetime struggle with their relationship with food.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 1999 through 2018, the obesity rate for adults jumped from 30.5% to 42.4%. The rates for morbid obesity also sharply rose from 4.7% to 9.2%. While those statistics apply to the adult population, similar statistics apply to kids.

The bottom line is that the other parent may be able to win custody based on the obese child's unhealthy weight.

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John T. Chamberlin, Attorney at Law
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