The research is pouring in: obesity during pregnancy poses a tremendous risk to the health of the unborn child. Children of obese mothers are born as pre-diabetics or with serious birth defects that can lead to kidney disease or heart disease, among other problems.
The fact that obesity in expectant mothers leads to health problems in their unborn children is not in dispute. What is in question, though, is how this should be handled. Given that obesity is a condition caused by lifestyle choices made by the mother, doesn't the mother have a responsibility to protect the health of her unborn child by altering her lifestyle?
To answer this question, take a closer look at the impact of alcohol and cigarette smoking on unborn children. Both habits cause horrifying birth defects and impair the unborn child's long-term health. It has long been argued that expectant mothers who engage in drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes are, in effect, abusing their unborn children by exposing them to these toxic chemicals at precisely the time when such chemicals can have devastating effects.
I agree with this assessment: pregnant women who drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes are, in my view, not just acting irresponsibly, they are guilty of crimes by consciously and willingly endangering the health of their children. In doing so, they forfeit their right to have children in the first place. Because, after all, if a woman can't stop smoking and drinking during pregnancy, she has no right to bring another human being into this world -- a human being that will be crippled from the start.
Does the same argument apply to obesity? Is an obese expectant mother also committing a crime against her unborn child? I don't think society is ready for that sort of designation, but it's time to get serious about the nutritional responsibility women have to their unborn children. There's also a responsiblity in society, I believe, to help assist pregnant women in achieving optimum nutritional goals. Nutritional supplements, for example, should be made available to all pregnant women at no cost (funded by taxpayers).
I believe that pregnant women who are obese should, at the very least, be required to undergo counseling that helps them understand why their current lifestyle habits and choices are so dangerous to the health of their unborn child. But whether society can be called upon to actually enforce health requirements on would-be mothers is another matter altogether. In a police state society, perhaps, women would not be allowed to reproduce until they demonstrated an acceptable degree of self health. But that's not the society we live in, nor one that I desire.
What do you think should be done here? Should expectant mothers be responsible for the health of their unborn children? Should they be somehow penalized for remaining obese during pregnancy? Is obesity during pregnancy the same as child abuse?