Should parents be held legally responsible when their kids are severely overweight?

Several states have begun holding parents responsible for dangerous levels of obesity among children. In one recent case, a mother in South Carolina whose 14-year-old son weighs 555 pounds has been arrested and charged with neglect. Should parents be held legally responsible when their kids are severely overweight?

I would say you have to be very carefull and make sure neglect is the cause and not family genetics. -Brandon Carriere, Le Sueur, MN

Obesity is a psychological disease just like anorexia. We are not punishing parents for this disease so we should not do so for obesity! -Diana, Bloomington, MN

Definitely parents should be responsible. Maybe putting the pressure on parents now will be the first step in emphasizing prevention in our health care system. -Kerry, Northfield, MN

Yes parents should be held responsible for their children’s obesity. Whether a child is overweight or underweight it poses health risks. I think it should be considered neglect when it is obvious that the parents are not making any efforts to promote general health. This would be apparent through consultations with healthcare providers and actions taken…or lack there of. -Tauna Hudson, Bovey, MN

Ultimately it is the fault of the parents; the idea that since a meal has been fixed for them they must eat it is still very much alive. A child will not starve herself just because she does not want to eat when you want her to. There is also the factor of sugar in the diet. My oldest children were never given sugared foods and to this day have no sweet tooth, no weight issues, and also have never had cavities (they are in their 30’s). The younger ones did have access to sugar and now fight with weight issues and dental ones as well. -anonymous text message

No, not until the govt cracks down on junk food marketers. -anonymous text message

Yes! As a young child parents provide the foundation of food habits. -anonymous text message

Parents are held responsible if their children are underweight and/or malnourished so I think parents should be held responsible if their children are extremely overweight. Both extreme overweight and extreme underweight are equally negligent and damaging to the child. -Lynn, Elk River, Mn

Yes parents should b held responsible they can say no. -anonymous text message

  • Angela Gladman-Robinson


  • Only after our government starts supporting local healthy food. With a large majority of our population being denied access to fresh and healthy food due to zoning and economics that needs to be fixed before we target parents.

  • Karen

    In the example cited on the radio (of the woman who has been arrested for neglect, because her child is 500 plus pounds) yes – definitely. If, legally, a person can be required to pursue therapies to cure a child’s cancer when a cure is indeed possible, then I think the legal precedent has been established, that a parent must provide for a child’s basic needs. A child who weighs over 500 pounds is being neglected. He/she is suffering from a debilitating physical condition. The child’s need for nourishment (nutritional, emotional, and otherwise) are not being attended to, and that human being’s entire life is being impacted by that neglect.

  • Sandi

    Absolutely. Neglect would be applicable in a case of child starvation, why not in the case of an obese child? They both lead to serious health issues for the child.

  • Noel

    If a child was starving to death we would hold the parent responsible, why not if the child is severely overweight! I do agree with Devin, regarding healthy food choices, not all parents have easy access to this. However, parents should make the effort to get healthy food choices and to monitor what their children eat. Even if you do not eat healthy there are things you can do to help with weight loss.

  • kennedy

    There is no question that parent’s are responsible for the well-being of their children. There is a question as to if/when it is appropriate for the government to get involved.

    There is no test or measurement used to give or deny the right to have children. As a result there are a wide variety of home environments that children are being raised in. When I see an unhealthy situation, I feel pity for the child(ren) and disapproval for the parent(s). However, we do not have the right as a society to intervene merely to assuage our own negative feelings.

  • Jamie

    We don’t have enough information about the case cited to be able to render opinions about it. There are many reasons why people become obese — it’s not always just about overeating and not exercising enough. I would guess that this is especially true for a 500-pound 14-year-old. Perhaps that family doesn’t have health insurance with which to explore the reasons for his obesity. Even if a child’s obesity IS because of eating too much and not exercising, there’s only so much that a parent can do to make that child change.

  • Garitaar

    It is possible to be malnourished regardless of weight. Kids with behavioral problems living on bad-carbs and sugar may not be obese but their brain hardware suffers.

    We need to focus on Health Education to resolve nutrition issues.

    Laws should keep kids from second hand smoke, so if you want mandatory health awareness, deletion of smoking around children is the best place to start.

  • Lois

    If the child and family had been referred to a doctor/nutritionist and the parents refused to follow the advice, then the parents could be held liable. Or they could be held liable for not looking for help for the child in the first place. But obesity is much more than just feeding the child too much.

  • Because my husband has to work fifteen hours a day, I have to parent on my own. I work eight hours on my feet waiting on people and come home to four kids for whom I have to do everything. My question is why are they arresting the person who has done everything for this child? Where is the father who abandoned his family, and why isn’t he being held responsible? Until our society realizes that a person cannot humanly do EVERYTHING on her own, mothers & children will suffer and single parents will continue to be judged, blamed and persecuted. At the very least this woman should face a jury of her peers, i.e. fellow single parents. At the very most the state should offer some in home help. “When I was hungry you fed me. When thirsty you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger in your land you welcomed me in.”

  • Aaron

    Yes, parents should be legally responsible to the health of their children until the age of 18. If they do not properly take care of their children then the subject of neglect is brought into the conversation.

  • How interesting. After reading an article on the woman, it turns out that she was meeting state requirements. She was not force feeding her son, but the boy was finding and eating foods outside of her home at school! When her efforts weren’t enough she fled to keep custody of her son, and was arrested in Maryland. So was the mother supposed to go to school with her son? The school district had no comment. If I was this mother I would say **** it! Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. How is penalizing her helping her son? He is now in foster care. Unbelievable.

  • Dave

    It is absolutely approriate to hold a parent responsible for a child’s obesity. A child does not know any better. Many of the foods that are marketed these days will react in our brains in some of the same ways as a drug would. Children do not understand this. It is the parent’s responsibility to help their child live a healty life. If they do not do this, any person that weighs 500+ pounds will end up using government funds in the form of social services at some point.

  • Tim

    So what’s the government supposed to do, fine the parents? Jail the parents? Then what? Have you solved anything? Just think of the new problems you just created. This is not what government is for. Stick with constitutionally mandated tasks and leave the rest to families and communities.

  • Anonymous

    This is a slippery slope, an issue that cannot be answered simply or definitively.

    In some cases, a child’s obesity (especially morbid obesity) may certainly be the result of parental neglect. Kids only have access to the nutrition and activity available to them in their households. It seems that in these cases, government intervention – focused on training and education – could be appropriate.

    At the same time, genetics do play a role. For example, I have six children, and one is obese. Our family loves outdoor sports, except that one, who would prefer to read or do other sedentary activities. The kids eat healthily, all except one, who snacks while the rest of us sleep.

    We do what we can, including therapy to determine what underlying emotional issues may exist for our overweight child. It’s been a struggle. We know it’s a problem and are doing all we can.

    I just hope everyone realizes that this issue cannot be addressed with a simple “yes” or “no.”

  • Lauren

    There is a great danger in applying blanket statements to matters of healthcare when legal intervention is a possibility. While obesity can indeed be simplified down to calorie intake and expenditure ratios, it is foolish to assume that obesity stems only from the intake piece; namely eating too much. Many conditions exist in which the body isn’t expending calories at a healthy level. To blame parents for this is foolish.

    With that said, watch any TV specials on the super morbidly obese and you will see enablers. These enablers, especially when they are enabling minors, need to be held accountable. But then the question is raised “at what point does someone become an enabler?” and that is a difficult question to answer.

    Levying higher taxes on heavily processed, high calorie food could provide more of an impact… many times these foods are very cheap. If the prices were increased, hopefully more people would shift to healthier food and eventually the economies of scale would dictate that healthier food be cheaper. In addition the tax money from heavily processed foods could be used for health programs.

    Ultimately it is a complicated question; no one wants to be responsible but in the end someone has to be. Is it the parents fault for not controlling their child’s food intake? For not taking them to a doctor or nutritionist? Is it a doctor or nutritionists fault for not tackling the problem effectively? Is it the junk food makers for creating unhealthy products? Is it the FDA’s fault for not better regulating junk food and tightening standards? There are many layers of blame to be placed.

  • proncarati

    I agree w/not having government involved in what people eat. Where government can get involved is education. When 1/3 of our population is obese something is wrong. Diabetes II is on the increase in children as well as adults. That’s serious. My guess is the parents or parent is also overweight. Maybe not, but when i see people walk into a certtain fast food place near my home parent and child is usually overweight. We educated people about the perils of smoking we can do the same with eating healthy. Maybe food processors should raise their standards on what we put into our mouths.

  • Jamie

    I am astonished and dismayed by all these misconceptions about obesity. Only a couple people here have indicated that there may be other causes besides too much food and too little exercise. Even when those are the causes, it is SO not that simple to get a child to make major lifestyle changes. And if you weigh over 500 pounds at age 14, you have some extremely difficult issues to deal with even if there’s not an underlying medical/genetic/pathological cause.

    Midmorning or Midday should do some programs on obesity to educate all these people making uniformed comments here.

  • Adam Estrem

    Parents should be held responsible if it is found that the parents have obviously done nothing to recognize or help their child. Responsibility should be carefully considered when trying a case like this in court. If the parent has recognized that their child is severely over weight, and has tried to remedy their situation, but no weight loss has occurred, than we as a public can’t hold the parent responsible. I believe that there are a few factors that need to be taken into consideration, like the child’s age, academics, and social skills. Remember, even McDonald’s has healthy choices now!

  • Robert W. Seidel

    In my experience, working parents are unable to prevent their children from overeating given the unlimited access to junk food provided by retailers and vending machines. They are, however, responsible for dealing with the results, either medically or behaviorally. Unfortunately, there is not the same availability of medical care that parents in other industrialized nations enjoy. Consequently they are subject to the laws of supply and demand, in this case the cause being readily available and in demand with the cure being difficult to access and expensive, whether in the form of counseling, fat farms or commercial dieting plans.

    As usual, the advocates of individualism blame the victim while the advocates of a just society blame the corporate economic system. So until we accept social as well as individual responsibility, we can only rely upon children’s economic rationalism to avoid the problem and blame the parents when they prove to be the irrational little animals they are.

  • Todd29

    “Being overweight sucked, but after reading your book, I lost 85 pounds! Words can’t express how good I feel!“ This is a comment which I recently received about the book Lose Weight Using Four Easy Steps which can be ordered through

  • aaliyah

    i go with both sides yes and no because at times they do need reasurance because if they dont they might possibly go to jail for this kind of act without it so say wat ever because this is what i say i say at times !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • aaliyah

    sorry none of that goes with the question blogged the wrong one it was supposed to go with should parents legally be responsible for the actions of their children?????????:)



  • aaliyah

    sorry none of that goes with the question blogged the wrong one it was supposed to go with should parents legally be responsible for the actions of their children?????????:)



  • Jackie Garcia

    I, as a 14 year old don’t think this is the right thing to do. These kids don’t receive any support at all with the governments advice, whether it’s a foster home or an order to gym workouts. Instead, these children get lost which leads to conflicts like drugs or suicide. Young adolescents and kids don’t know what to do; they are confused. So..what does that child do? Get into trouble.