Fitness Friday: An Obese Child = Medical Neglect
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.
I’m linking up this week with Megan at Sorta Crunchy for Your Green Resource
Jill over at Fitness Friday
Go visit these ladies…they are awesome.
Sources for this post:
You're so right. And I'm so guilty. I'm the grandmother who buys the Wendy's baconator – STILL – even now when Wendy's posts the calories on the drive up menu, even now when I have grown obese, even now when I cringe at my grand kids' double chins. Thanks for the scolding. I needed it. There's nothing more precious to me in the world than these children, and I am going to change. When they get home this afternoon, we're going to play basketball!
Sharon, I'm proud of you.
I do not think the child should have been taken away from his mother. Clearly there are issues that need to be addressed but at least we know he was fed- better than some kids. The reality is the government is using her as an example when if they want to DO something to help this family they need to start with themselves. Most likely this child was on subsided meals at school. Reality is poverty in US = obesity. Nutrient poor foods with high calories. Why? Healthy food is harder to get and more expensive and they really don't know! Education is so often the missing link with obese children. This boy probably starts his day with a biscuit, sausage and chocolate milk at his school for breakfast followed by a hamburger, fries, cookies and more chocolate milk for lunch courtesy of the government. If kids get good food they eat it- but if they have junk food as their choice they will eat that instead. If he only had the choice of healthy meals at school a big part of the problem would be solved- 2 of 3 meals most days of the year. He would learn what is good and not good- something his mother never learned so she could not teach him And if he was required to go to PE everyday- not just once a week or never- he would be getting at least 5 days of physical activity. With test scores being the priority the overall well being of the kids is often lost. If they really want to help the obesity crisis they should start making some meaningful changes in schools it all starts with education.
I have had the opportunity to speak to MOPs groups and share what is in our food. Food Inc is a good documentary for those who want some truth (it's a little on the new age side, but there are still some good facts.) Anyway, when I share about genetically modified foods, MSG, etc, I get the deer in the headlights look. Not many seem to know anything about what's in our food. I don't like to give the gov't the right to say "abuse", "neglect". I homeschool and they overstep their bounds all the time in the homeschool community. Do I think allowing your child to be obese is right, absolutely not…but letting the gov't step in isn't the answer either. I think we need to know the truth about all the junk they have tainted our food supply with and I think there needs to be a way to make healthier food more accessible. People who work hard…they are tired, they make minimum wage, so they buy what is "affordable". Or, they don't want to take the time to know what is good or not. I was the stupid mom until I got diagnosed with a potentially life threatening condition. I woke up and since then have changed a lot of things, I chose not to be another "sick" american! Thanks for your blog!
Meredith: "If they really want to help the obesity crisis they should start making some meaningful changes in schools it all starts with education."
I agree with you 100% on this statement. I was going to address that in my post, but felt this subject actually warranted a separate post. The lack of PE and the food offered in school lunches and as "rewards" and "treats" throughout the day is an area that greatly disturbs me.
Although, the fact that the case workers tried to work with this mother for 20 months before removing the child from her home tells me that they must have taught her something about basic nutrition and the importance of exercise.
Without knowing more about the case, it's really difficult to make assumptions about this boy's family and his economic situation.
Thanks for your input, friend. 🙂
I saw Food Inc and loved that movie. I also highly recommend Supersize Me.
Thanks for your comment.
Wow. A 200 pound 8 year old? I can't fathom it…
However, I think the government gets involved in too much. They swoop in to save so many people, that our society had developed a "the government should fix this" mentality. It's time to take responsibility for our own actions.
However, the flip side is, the child was suffering health damage by the living situation… so I am torn. I don't know the answer.
However, we also can't blame fat kids on school food. If they eat a healthy breakfast and lunch then a school lunch will NOT make a kid fat.
Lack of PE? Infuriates me. As a person who has lots of energy to burn and who has a daughter with the same tendencies I can't IMAGINE having to sit still as much as they do. However, the kids have so much info to cram in to such a short day, I don't know the answer there either…I just know that as a parent I must step up and make sure they MOVE so they don't just turn in to blobs of jelly watching TV.
The only thing I DO know is parenting is a really big job. A tough job. I only pray I don't screw it up any more than I already think I am!
I hold myself accountable for every aspect of my children's lives. No it's not always easy. Yes. I think parents should be held accountable for what their kids eat. How to do that and the role of the government? The answer isn't so simple but not fixing it isn't an option. It's an epidemic that has lifelong consequences.
As a psychologist at an elem school for 1000+ students you would be shocked by the number of children that are obese and by the number of kids that can't even walk up a flight of stairs without stopping.
This is such a difficult issue, Sandy, and I appreciate the way you've addressed it. So much education needs to be done, and you're doing a good job of doing that here. When I was growing up, we learned about food and nutrition from our moms who actually knew something about it. These days, lots of moms don't cook, so they know very little about nutrition. We really do owe it to our sons and daughters to educate them about these things.
As to the 200 pound 3rd grader. Oh my. I heard that story, and really felt sad for him. His mom needs education, but I don't think it's helping the situation to have him removed from her home. I pray he gets the help he needs.
Grandma again. I want to address the issue of the little boy being taken from his mother. I probably didn't mention it earlier because it makes my blood boil. It's heart wrenching and just wrong in this situation and dozens of others. I saw the underbelly of our system when my daughter tried to reach out as a foster parent. And as an early home school mom, I know exactly what ecoffey is talking about when she says our government oversteps its bound.
And Meredith is right on. Food choices in the public schools are beyond awful. And what happened to PE? I was in school when JFK (I think) said we needed to be exercising, so even though I was embarrassed in those group shower stalls;)I had some kind of PE all the way through high school. And sadly her equation is correct. I too believe low income is a big factor in our obesity crisis. One of my own prayers – as I look at retirement – is that I would be able to go into the store and buy the salmon and the pomegranate juice and organic veggies I like and that I know are good for me. Instead, even now when I work part time, I browse the store for the "manager's specials" and other mark downs just to be able to feed myself let alone the grand kids when they visit. Of course, less Wendy's will help the budget! And my electric bill may go down too when I unplug the electronic devilish devices now and then. Ya think?
Until this child has been given a full battery of tests to determine why he is obese, he should not be removed from his mother. If what I read is true, she also has an older child who is not obese. Why is there no mention of his father? Is the mother and, by default, the family living on welfare? Limited money frequently leads to buying the cheapest food. As you said in your last comment, we don't know enough about the situation and most likely the government overseers don't either.