Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Supersized Kids

by Katherine Scardino

According to Merriam Webster's Dictionary, a person who is "obese" is “well above one’s normal weight.” A person has traditionally been considered obese if he or she is more than 20% over his or her ideal weight. A morbidly obese person usually weighs twice more than he or she should or 50-500% over the ideal weight.

Morbid obesity is an unfortunate problem that is becoming worse everyday. The alarming aspect of it is that it is affecting people at a much earlier age. Young children are becoming morbidly obese and are experiencing the same health problems as middle-aged adults. This severe state of obesity is something that can be controlled and prevented, but only if parents take an active role in their child’s diet and exercise.

I began thinking about this serious problem today after reading an article in
USA Today about a woman in South Carolina whose 14 year old son who weighed 550 pounds. The authorities there arrested and charged her with criminal neglect. There have been many articles written about childhood obesity being on the rise in the United States, but I have never heard of a parent being charged with a crime as a result of their child being obese. The mother in South Carolina was jailed and her son was placed in foster care. The mother insisted that she followed nutritional guidelines, but because she worked two jobs her child was able to get food from other people when she was not around.

The main case on this issue in Texas involved a woman with a child who was four years old and weighed 97 pounds, and then during the process of the case, wound up weighing 136 pounds.(In the Interest of G.C., A Minor Child, 66 SW3d 517). CPS took custody of the child and placed him in foster care, where he immediately started losing weight. After investigating, CPS filed a suit to terminate her parental rights based on medical neglect, and after a trial on this matter, the jury did just that. CPS looks at child obesity as child abuse. The ability to terminate a person’s parental title is a fundamental, constitutional right that belongs exclusively to a parent. To take that away from a citizen of the United States should require strict proof and very strong evidence against a parent.

Parents who are advised by medical doctors to decrease the caloric intake and increase activity level yet choose to disregard that medical advice do nothing but harm their child. The child becomes morbidly obese. Suppose this hypothetical child dies. Who is responsible? The legal system’s answer to this question of responsibility is that the parent is at fault when they consciously ignored the danger their child was in. Fortunately, in the South Carolina case, the State intervened before the child died.

So, why are children gaining weight? The causes for obesity and morbid obesity are identical. The most common causes are genetic factors, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating habits, or a combination of these factors. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that only one in 100 children eats a balanced diet. Children take in fats and sugar far in excess of recommendations and add to this problem the fact that the growth of video games in the United States has helped to ensure that the average American child now spends four hours a day sitting in front of a television or a computer screen.

All of the above describes the problem that we have in our society. But, what do we do about it? Is arresting the parent responsible for feeding the child the solution? Is that even right? Parents should take action to see that their children do not literally eat themselves to death. Is there a distinction between parents of an anorexic child by the fact that the child refuses to eat anything? That child also has serious health problems.

In the fight against morbid obesity, the courts are getting involved. If parents are found to have neglected their child by consciously disregarding the medical advice provided by a doctor and their child continues to eat to the point of morbid obesity, then there are a variety of options available. Some of these options include mandated enrollment in nutrition education programs, removal of the child and placement in a temporary foster home or health facility, or in severe cases, criminal prosecution.

How would this work? First, the courts must find the parents neglectful. The Family Code outlines the rights and duties of a parent and mandates that parents see to a child’s medical needs. If a parent fails to comply with this parental duty, the CPS and the court will step in and do something - and the most severe is a termination of parental rights.

So, what are solutions? What can we do to stop this rise of childhood obesity? It is generally believed that education for children and parents of all weights and ages is necessary, but there is an imminent need to educate morbidly obese children and their parents. A health clinic located at Yale University called Bright Bodies has a program to teaches behavior modification to children and parents. In all areas, there are clinics and hospitals with the facilities to educate the parents and the children about their bodies and their health.

What about the psychological effect on the child of removal from his home? Doesn’t a child have an attachment to his parents which forms the basis of who we are as human beings and the continuity of that attachment is essential? A break in this chain between parent and child could cause fear and anxiety, and diminish the child’s sense of stability. Which situation is worse for the child?

As you can see, there is no easy solution. Is the government trying to legislate too much? Is it right to charge a parent with a crime in extreme situations where the child is grossly overweight? Does a parent have a right “as a parent” to make decisions for the child - even bad decisions?

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Why don't they just skip the parents and go straight to the sources? Why not close down grocery stores that sell the fat and sugar laden junk foods? Why not close down all fast food restaurants? If the government wants to get into the lives of the citizens right down to the very food we can or cannot eat, then remove the food and therefore the temptation.

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FleaStiff said...

I know that obesity is the "in thing" nowadays so please excuse me if I don't get caught up in this popular belief. I rarely hop aboard bandwagons such as facilitated communication, McMartin PreSchool Hysteria, etc. Sure some people don't exercise and they probably don't see their parents exercizing either. Some obesity will be due to a viral insult or to neurological conditions such as Prader-Willi syndrome. I seem to recall one hospital "Grief Counselor" (ie, risk management lawyer) counseled the bereaved mother of a morbidly obese girl to have the daughter cremated and then the district attorney charged her with neglect. No way to prove compulsive eating due to Prader Willi then!
Are there some circumstances where its bad parenting? Probably. Hardly a priority crime for either us or the DA to worry about.

cheryl said...

What if a person without children is morbidly obese? Should they be arrested and charged with self abuse?

Yes, it is very very bad of parents to overfeed their children. But criminal?

Anonymous said...

I think is really bad for a parent to see their own kid getting overweight and dont do anything to help them.Overfeeding,not healthy eating or too much fast food. Me as a mother I watch what my kids eat it doesnt mean because a parent is overweight they has to be overweight (obese). I make time for them everyday and supervice everything they eat with moderation and exercise while playing is fun. I have a nephew 8 yrs obese 150 lbs and is not fair to him that he cannot play with kids his age because he hurts them by accidents. But who tells his mother that, she dont care. Every summer he looses a little weight just by going outside and playing with me and the kids weight he gets back when he goes back to his mom, very sad to say. I realy dont know how to help him anymore. Help your kids all you have to do is supervice what they eat there is a time for everything, fast food, cakes, candy, etc not everyday.