Of all the things that change our culture in America, lawsuits seem to mark some of the biggest turning points. Think Brown vs. Board of Education or Roe vs. Wade as two examples. And so it goes that the only thing that could change the growing epidemic of obesity is a lawsuit. Specifically, a person who has grown up obese with diabetes turning 18 and suing his/her parents for causing his condition. Suing for the cost of medical bills they will be saddled with their whole life, and damages from the devastating social ostracism and ridicule that has caused their severe depression and low self-esteem. The smoking gun proof, aside from the physical state of the individual at 18, would be the years of pictures and movies shot at family meals showing in lurid detail just what they were being fed as a child. Fast foods and sodas and candy and fried goods heaped on their plate, the fat face of an 8-year-old beaming across a pile of sugary shit at the camera mere days before learning they have diabetes. And the pictures a week after the diagnosis of that same child scarfing down a huge piece of birthday cake, with frosting comically spread across his chubby cheeks, a Super Big Gulp at his side. A lawsuit like this would set a legal precedent that would make all parents seriously reconsider what they feed their children and provoke a deep debate on diet and consumption on all levels in this country. The only thing that can change our culture of gluttonous excess is a good old fashioned lawsuit to set a legal precedence.
Obesity kills more people than anything but cigarettes in this country- roughly 300-400,000 a year and rising. What's amazing is that the top killers of Americans fall under the category of "preventable," meaning people choose to smoke, drink, overeat and ultimately, prematurely die. The medical costs of treating diabesity in the U.S. is staggering -- by 2020, 1 in 5 health care dollars spent would be consumed by obesity-related medical problems -- a 50 percent raise since 2000. But whereas adults can prevent (or not) their own early demise, children cannot.
Children have no say in what their being fed and the parents have no true responsibility to feed them a somewhat (or totally) healthy diet. So far, we have avoided the heavy hand of government in dictating how we feed our children. But that day reckoning may soon be upon us and for the overburdened health care system and children being born every day, it couldn't come too soon. The Libertarian view of government staying out of our personal lives works well for adults who are adept at making their own choices but does nothing to protect innocent children from parents who think their child's diabesity isn't a problem, who neglect their child's diet so poorly as to saddle them with lifelong health and social problems. We as a country don't do enough to protect children from what is often their greatest menace: their own parents. It is particularly painful to see the pro-life movement so concerned with fetuses yet practically give up on them once they're born. How about a pro-healthy-life movement? It is easy to call for the government to stay out of our private lives but extremely difficult to tell your parents not to feed you poorly when you're five-years-old. For many children, food is a sign of love from our parents, right from the first time we suck at the teat. Abusing that love by feeding your kids into diabesity is only going to stop when there is a legal precedent to do so.
Let me list some recently published facts about obesity in our country, which should illuminate the problem America faces from this self-inflicted health crisis:
1. In 2003 and 2004, two-thirds (66 percent) of the U.S. adults were overweight or obese.
2. By 2015, 75 percent of adults and nearly 24 percent of U.S. children and adolescents will be overweight or obese.
3. Eighty percent of black women aged 40 years or over are overweight with 50 percent being classified as obese.
4. U.S obesity prevalence escalated from 13 percent in the 1960s to 32 percent in 2004.
5. According to a 2001 U.S. Surgeon General report, in 2000, overweight and obese Americans cost the U.S. economy an estimated $117 billion. Of that total, $61 billion covered direct medical costs; the remainder accounted for indirect costs, such as lost work time, disability and lost income due to premature death.
6. Obesity increases the risk and incidence of the following: heart attack, congestive heart failure, sudden cardiac death, angina and abnormal heart rhythm, hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis, sleep apnea, a host of cancers and of course, diabetes. More than 80 percent of people with diabetes are overweight/obese.
7. If a pregnant mother is obese the risk of her or her baby dying is much greater, compared to a pregnant mother whose weight is normal -- the risk of maternal high blood pressure is 10 times higher. Obese mothers are more likely to have problems with labor and delivery. The risk of developing gestational diabetes is much higher if the woman is obese. Obese pregnant women are at a higher risk of giving birth to babies with birth defects, such as spina bifida.
Overfeeding your child to the point of obesity is child abuse, plain and simple. Is it not abusing your child to feed him so poorly that he/she develops a life-threatening disease? Children are rarely in charge of food shopping, cooking or feeding themselves so it is up to the parents to make those decisions for them. One legal precedent could be the catalyst that ends this rising tide of obesity and makes it against the law to breed fat children. It's a winning solution for our nation's children, our overburdened healthcare system and the millions of families who lose loved ones far too soon due to their self-destructive behavior. And regardless of the law, feeding your child into obesity is not loving, caring or nurturing -- it's just plain ignorant and irresponsible. It's one of the most hurtful things you can do to a child both now and for the rest of his/her life and there is no just cause or reason for doing so. The government shouldn't have to police it's people's eating habits but it should protect it's children from abuse.