James E.J. Ickes, Esq.
Kyle Mordew, Researcher

It is irrefutable that in contemporary American society, there exists a significant, widespread nutrition problem. In the State of Ohio, 65% of adults are overweight, while 29% are obese1. But what makes this problem so dangerous is twofold: (1) it is affecting children; and (2) it is getting worse, not getting better.

In 1980 only 7% of children nationally were obese. Yet, in 2010, this number had ballooned to 18%2, as a growing number of the nation’s youth continue to consume food products that are egregiously unhealthy while posing serious health risks. However, this is not a problem for all, as many Americans eat well structured, healthy diets that they then pass on to their children. In addition, many of America’s children consistently exhibit poor sleep and exercise habits.

As a divorce lawyer, I often ask the question “how does a divorced parent foster a healthy lifestyle for their children when they control only half of a child’s dietary, exercise and lifestyle equation?” Simply, if one parent allows the child to eat unhealthy foods and stay up on school nights playing video games, doesn’t it undermine the best interest of the child?

Under Ohio Law, courts are required to make custodial decisions based upon “the best interest of the child” standard. In Miller v. Miller, the Ohio Supreme Court stated, “Abundant case law also supports the time honored standard that what is in the best interest of the child should be the overriding concern in any child custody case” (Emphasis added) Miller v. Miller (1988), 37 Ohio St. 3d 71. Further, the Ohio Revised Code states “in determining the best interest of the child, pursuant to this section, whether on an original award of custody or modification of custody, the court shall consider all relevant factors” (Emphasis added) R.C. 3109.04(C).

If Ohio courts must adhere to this standard, then the operative question becomes: “What could be important to a child’s ‘best interest’ and development than healthy nutrition, exercise and sleep habits?”

Consider the facts and evidence. The Center for Disease Control states that obese youth are at risk for:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • bone and joint problems
  • long term risk for many types of cancer, including breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate3.

These health risks are only exacerbated by the lack of exercise and proper sleep. Add to those risk factors the common stress placed upon a child whose parents are getting divorced, and the clear conclusion is that the current standard pays lip service to the “best interest of the child” while ignoring the most crucial elements of a child’s physical and emotional well being.

Today’s youth face unprecedented stress and anxiety. Societal pressures at school, at home, in sports and via social media and the Internet have the capacity to crush our children. Add arguing and divorcing parents to the mix and the conditions are right for a disaster. The Center for Disease Control lists all of the following as possible reactions to stress:

  • anger
  • depression and anxiety
  • loss of appetite
  • headaches
  • stomach problems
  • difficulty concentrating4.

These problems are only heightened if a child of a contentious divorce has poor nutrition, sleep, and exercise habits. Simply put, the long term, negative effects of poor diet, exercise and sleep are numerous, and can substantially hinder a child’s physical, emotional, and educational development.

If you are in the middle of a divorce, or considering going down this path, please consider all of the elements of your child’s well being and best interest when making the important decisions about your child’s parenting plan. By addressing these issues, you can help deter the inherent stress of a separation and promote the positive development of your child.

If these issues are important to you, perhaps you should consult an attorney who is committed to advocating the complete spectrum of your child’s best interest. Please feel free to contact our office should you have any questions or need any further information.

1 Center for Disease Control. “Ohio: State Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Profile.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Oct. 2012. Web. 07 Feb. 2013.
2 Center for Disease Control. “Childhood Obesity Facts.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 28 Jan 2013. Web. 07 Feb 2013.
3 Center for Disease Control. “Health Effects of Childhood Obesity.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 28 Jan 2013. Web. 07 Feb 2013.
4 Center for Disease Control “Coping with Stress: Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 30 Jan 2013. 07 Feb 2013.