Child Abuse, Foster Care, and Child Obesity
The diversity of data sources is one of the many strengths of this symposium. The first study includes the presentation of nationally represented estimates of obesity for children not only in foster care, but also those who remain in-home following an investigation receiving child welfare services. The second study uses child height and weight data collected directly from medical records and predicts unhealthy weight gain by both placement, child demographic, and investigation case characteristics of a sample of foster children in Los Angeles County who attended an initial medical appointment. The final paper surveys traditional foster parents in their home and examines the home environmental and familial correlates of healthy and unhealthy food and beverage intake for both foster children and parents in Virginia. All three studies included a wide age range of children.
These studies represent the cutting edge of research in this critical and overlooked area of study, and the implications are considerable. Children who suffer not only the trauma and disruption of maltreatment but also the co-morbidities and social stigma associated with obesity are in double jeopardy for life-long poor health outcomes and social disadvantage. The high prevalence of obesity among these children adds another layer of potentially life-long medical and social disadvantage to an already vulnerable population, yet weight status of children and adolescents in the child welfare system is not typically a priority area for treatment or policy. As we look at the well-being of children who have been abused and neglected, we see that this line of inquiry is both novel and critical to improving not only the physical health of abused and neglected children across the child welfare continuum of care, but also the emotional and psychological.