Updated: 11:06 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011 | Posted: 11:05 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011

Should obese kids be removed from home?

By Mary McCarty

Staff writer

There are so many paths to being an imperfect parent — and one of the chief ways is to the dinner table.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I stocked my library with books on healthy, nutritious meals.

No Chicken McNuggets or Kraft macaroni would ever touch my child’s lips, I vowed.

You all know what happened, right?

The books don’t tell you how adamantly kids prefer Cocoa Puffs over Cream of Wheat, Cheetos over carrots. It’s the closest they come to passionate conviction in their small lives: Yes, in fact, I will starve, sooner than eat that asparagus.

To prevent my child from starving, I decided, I’ll permit the occasional Happy Meal or macaroni plate. And there are all those nights when you come home late from work and the macaroni eventually becomes what passes for a gourmet meal.

Luckily, my children never developed weight problems and the two oldest have developed healthy eating habits.

Yet countless parents share the same uneasy truce with our culinary conscience. No doubt that’s why the case of the 200-lb. third-grader from Cleveland has sent shock waves across the country. The boy was taken from his family and was placed in foster care in October after county case workers said his mother wasn’t doing enough to control his weight. Authorities said he was at risk for developing such diseases as diabetes and high blood pressure. The boy already had breathing difficulties and sleep apnea, most likely caused by morbid obesity.

Never mind that the Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services agency worked for 20 months with the family to address the problem.

Here was a couple who hadn’t starved or abused their child, being limited, now, to once-weekly visits. Parents couldn’t help taking away the message: My child can be taken away from me for being fat.

Has it reached the point where children can be taken from their parents because we aren’t perfect?

Ann Stevens, spokeswoman for Montgomery County Children Services, said that’s certainly not the case. “The reason here is medical neglect, which has always been a component of neglect,” she said. “Most adults don’t weigh 200 pounds.”

She said cases of children being placed in foster care because of obesity are rare but not unheard-of: “We’ve had a few cases over the years.”

Where do you draw the line between protecting children and intrusion into the lives of families? Judging from the outraged response to the Cleveland case, many would say that the line should be drawn before such private matters as a child’s weight.

Stevens said it’s more complicated than that. “It’s hard on the outside not knowing all the inside information to be so judgmental,” she said.

“But there are many more things, lots of confidential information and details that aren’t ever disclosed. Looking from outside it’s easy to second-guess or make conclusions.”

Stevens assured parents that it’s not a decision that would be reached easily or swiftly, noting that a physician had been working with the family for more than two years.

“Nobody wants to put a child into foster care,” she said. “It’s a last resort.”

With an estimated 2 million children in America who are severely obese, it’s a question that may come more and more to the forefront.

We may see more and more clashes between private rights and the imperative of protecting children.

No matter what you think, it’s impossible not to be moved by the plight of the mother who told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “They are trying to make it seem like I am unfit, like I don’t love my child.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2209 or mmccarty@ DaytonDailyNews.com.


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