200-pound boy taken from mother; she says weight not her fault
The mother of an obese 8-year-old Ohio boy is denying that she is to blame for her son's weight of more than 200 pounds, which officials cited as a reason for putting him into foster care.
The case became public over the weekend after media in Cleveland reported on it. According to various accounts, the mother, whose identity has been kept private, lost custody of her son in October after case workers in Cuyahoga County said she was not doing enough to control his dangerously high weight.
He should weigh about 60 pounds, based on his height and his age, government workers said.
"This child's problem was so severe that we had to take custody," said Mary Louise Madigan of the county's Department of Children and Family Services. She said county workers had been aware of the problem for more than a year and had been working with the mother in hopes of bringing down the boy's weight.
"We have worked very hard with this family for 20 months before it got to this point," the agency's administrator, Patricia Rideout, said Monday, the Associated Press reported, adding that a judge approved the decision to put the boy into foster care.
The county became aware of the problem last year after the mother took the boy to a hospital because he was having breathing problems. But Sam Amata, a lawyer representing the family, said that the boy had no imminent health problems that would warrant the county's move.
"They are trying to make it seem like I am unfit, like I don't love my child," the boy's mother told the Plain Dealer newspaper. "Of course I love him. Of course I want him to lose weight. It's a lifestyle change, and they are trying to make it seem like I am not embracing that. It is very hard, but I am trying."
The case calls to mind that of Anamarie Regino, a 3-year-old who weighed 90 pounds when officials citing health concerns took her from her home in New Mexico in August 2000 and put her into foster care. Anamarie was subsequently returned to her family, and in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" in January, she and her mother said the separation did not help her lose weight.
“To get better you need to be with your family, instead of being surrounded by doctors,” Anamarie, by then a teenager, said at the time.
Her mother, Adela Martinez, called the separation "the longest two months of my life." The family said Anamarie was subsequently diagnosed with a genetic issue, which was the cause of her weight problem.
Two years ago, 14-year-old Alexander Draper was put in foster care by South Carolina authorities when his weight hit 555 pounds. His mother, Jerri Gray, lost custody of the boy, who eventually went to live with his aunt and lost more than 200 pounds.
Such cases helped prompt two researchers to publish a controversial paper in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. last summer that advocated state intervention in some instances to help obese children. Dr. David Ludwig and co-author Lindsey Murtagh wrote that in "severe instances of childhood obesity, removal from the home may be justifiable, from a legal standpoint, because of imminent health risks and the parents' chronic failure to address medical problems."
Many experts and families affected by such rulings disagreed, but one thing everyone agrees on: Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the United States. First Lady Michelle Obama has made it a priority to combat the problem, which affects 17% of children and adolescents in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
-- Tina Susman in New York