Childhood obesity increasingly a factor in custody disputes

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by MEG COYLE / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @MegCoyleKING

KING5.com

Posted on October 31, 2011 at 4:51 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM

SEATTLE -- Divorce court is now taking on the weighty issue of childhood obesity. More and more, it's being used as a weapon in custody fights. It's a trend that's taking family and food to court.

Divorce attorney Olaf Hansen sees the writing on the divorce decree. Childhood obesity rates are three times what they were 30 years ago. So it's no surprise that in a growing number of custody disputes, parents are blaming each other.

"Oh, by the way, we think you're very fat and it's because that other parent created that," says Hansen mockingly, showing how the child can become caught in the middle of an embarrassing argument. "If there are issues related to obesity I think that's very stressful for the kids."

And there's another problem. There are all kinds of reasons why a child may be obese. It could be diet, it could be stress, it could be genetics, so proving it's a parent's fault isn't easy.

"It's an argument of lifestyle," says Hansen.

Even in cases of severe childhood obesity it's rare that a judge rules in favor of one parent over the other unless they can prove neglect or disregard for a child's well-being. A judge in Portland switched custody after one parent complained the other was making their child obese by feeding the boy fast food three times a day. He was also reportedly not up-to-date on his vaccinations.

Some states, including Pennsylvania, are including diet and obesity in determining what it means to be in the best interest to the child. 

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