Childhood Obesity and Child CustodyMarybeth Sampsel
It’s hard to turn on the news without hearing a story about rising rates of childhood obesity across the country. And unfortunately, Montana is no exception. And following the rule that divorcing parents with turn everything and anything into a fight: it’s become a new hot topic in divorce cases.
According to the CDC, childhood obesity is determined by comparing the BMI of a child to the corresponding BMI-for-age and sex percentile. For children aged 2-19 years, overweight is defined as a BMI at or above the 85th percentile for children of the same age and sex. Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.
The consequences of childhood obesity can be severe and range from high blood pressure to high cholesterol to insulin resistance to type 2 diabetes. It can cause breathing problems such as sleep apnea and asthma and lead to joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort. And those are just some of the immediate risks.
Long term, those who are obese in childhood are more likely to become obese adults, which is associated with a number of serious health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Also, if children are overweight, obesity in adulthood is likely to be more severe.
With all that to consider, it’s no surprise that the blame game for parents of an obese child is common and contentious. But, given the many possible causes of childhood obesity, which range from genetic to environmental, it’s very difficult to prove one parent was at fault. And that’s where things can get ugly.
At this point, judges have been very reluctant to make parenting determinations based on accusations related to childhood obesity. Absent clear proof of neglect or disregard for a child’s well being, courts have steered clear of this issue. But that hasn’t stopped divorcing parents from dragging their child’s weight into the spot light and trying to use it. And, that hasn’t stopped some states from considering redefining the best interests of a child to include things like diet and obesity.