Two months ago, in the town of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, an 8-year-old boy was removed from his mother’s home and placed in foster care. The reason? Medical neglect.
The boy weighs more than 200 pounds. According to government growth charts, an 8-year-old child should weigh between 55 and 60 pounds.
A 200-pound child is at great risk for developing many diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. This particular child has not been diagnosed with any of these diseases…yet.
But early last year, the mother and the boy showed up in the emergency room because the child was having trouble breathing. Hospital workers diagnosed him with sleep apnea (which is often linked to obesity), gave him a breathing machine and then alerted county workers of the boy’s condition.
(This should have been a HUGE red flag to this mother. Hello? It is not normal protocol to alert authorities after a trip to the ER.)
Since that time, Cuyahoga County case workers have worked with this family to help the boy lose weight—for a period of 20 months, according to Agency Administrator, Patricia Rideout. I don’t know what “worked with this family” means. But I’ve got to believe that she was given some information on proper nutrition and exercise, at the very least.
This boy is paying dearly for his mother’s failure to respond. Not only is he morbidly obese and ill, but now he is forced out of his home, away from his mother, to live with strangers.
Childhood obesity is an epidemic in the U.S.—and this case is just one of probably millions that underscores the urgency of the problem. I have written about childhood obesity in previous Fitness Friday posts. As a mother, this is a health issue that frustrates and concerns me more than just about any other.
Children are vulnerable. They don’t have the intellect or maturity to understand what is best for them. We wouldn’t give them free access to other things that would harm them physically and psychologically—drugs, alcohol, guns, X-Rated internet content—why are we so nonchalant when it comes to the very thing that feeds and nurtures their bodies? Why do we wave it off to the tune of, “We can’t fix this. It’s too complex of a problem.”
In the U.S. we have access to an over abundance of healthy food, so we cannot use that as an excuse. We also have access to an abundance of information about proper nutrition and exercise. We can’t use that excuse either. Other countries might be able to say this. Not us.
Sure, there are many contributors to this problem, but it really comes down to this:
Children cannot eat food unless it is given to them by an adult—a parent, a school cafeteria, a trusted guardian, a caretaker. Children (especially the little ones) do not have money or transportation to stock their own food supply. They rely on adults to do that for them. And we, as the trusted adults, are failing our children, miserably.
At what point will we start taking responsibility for this as a nation? As schools? As parents?
Most parents I know love their kids as much as I love mine. They desire to provide the best environment possible to protect and nurture the little lives entrusted to them. I am sure the mother of this precious 8-year-old boy in Ohio loves her son very much. But somewhere, somehow, there is a disconnect between the ache of love that originates in our hearts and the act of setting healthy food on the table.
I talk to parents all the time who chuckle and roll their eyes at me because I take the time to flip over a package and read the ingredients. They act surprised that I won’t allow them to eat foods with hydrogenated oils (trans fat) or aspartame (sugar substitute). They act even more surprised that my children know what those two ingredients are! I know parents who think they have no choice but to swing through the fast food drive-thru for dinner most nights, because they are just too busy to cook. I know many parents who honestly have no intention of eliminating processed, fatty and chemically-laden foods from their diets, because it’s just too much trouble.
Listen, I’m a mom, too. My three kids are just like yours. Given the opportunity, they would eat crap every single day. They love junk as much as your kids love junk. They would choose sitting in front of the Wii playing Super Mario Brothers to riding their bikes or chasing the neighbor kids outside A-N-Y-D-A-Y. Almost every day, I have to physically remove a crying kid from an electronic device and force him or her outside. Almost every day, I have to firmly remind a child to eat a fruit or vegetable instead of left-over Halloween candy. There have been days where, in total frustration, I’ve throw my hands up in the air and said, “Fine! Eat whatever you want. I’m sick of fighting with you about this.” (not my proudest parenting moment.)
I also do all the grocery shopping and meal-planning for my family. I absolutely know how much it costs to eat healthy food. I know how long it takes to prepare home-cooked meals. I know how time-consuming it is to test out different recipes so you can discover healthy meals and snacks your family will eat.
It feels like an uphill battle when the rest of your child’s world—school, other parents, grandparents, other children—are continually offering them junk. (Just this morning while dropping off my daughter at Mother Day Out, there sat a full tray of store-bought pink frosted cup cakes for their “snack.” Uggggh!!! My 5-year-old does not need to be eating a pink frosted store-bought cupcake at 10 am!!!)
Yes, I know all of this is very difficult. I’m right there in the trenches with you.
But let me ask you this: Since when is the best thing or the RIGHT thing also the EASY thing? Never. It never is. As a parent, you know this. I bet the mom of the 8-year-old boy knows it, too.
If I could talk to that sweet Momma in Cleveland Heights, I would first embrace her and tell her, “You can do this. I believe in you.”
And then I would remind her that God gave her this child and it is her responsibility to take good care of him—even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. I would muster up all the self-control I had and resist the urge to say, “This is your KID, suck it up!”
I would tell her, it (the changes) might be different from what she’s used to, but it will be worth it. (Not only will she get her son back, but everyone will feel and look so much better.)
And I would tell her that, really, all the changes necessary are probably not as complicated as she thinks they are—eating healthy and staying active are really very simple. (Throwing some meat and veggies in a crock pot is cheaper and less time-consuming than driving to Burger King. Taking a walk after dinner is free exercise.)
I would encourage her that small changes will make a really big difference. (Cutting out soda and walking every day would cause most obese people to drop a tremendous amount of weight immediately.)
I would empathize with her by telling her every 8-year-old on the planet (and every adult) throws a fit when you take away the Doritos and replace them with carrot sticks. (So what? Who’s the parent here?)
And finally, I would remind her how her actions now will have a ripple effect and potentially change her entire family tree from here on out. (Her son will probably be a dad someday…)
Mom, Dad, Teacher, Grandparent…This is a big deal. We can’t make light of it any longer. We can’t wave it off as insignificant. We can’t ignore it. These are our children. Let’s take care of them.
Q4U: What do you think? Does allowing your 8-year-old son to reach 200 pounds constitute medical neglect? Did the government over-step by removing this child from his home temporarily until he loses some weight? At what point is the government responsible to intervene on behalf of innocent children?
I want to hear your thoughts on this.
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