Foster Homes for Fat Kids?

You probably heard that recently a 200 pound 8 year old boy was removed from his home because he did not successfully lose weight.  The identities have not been disclosed because the country considers this a child abuse case.

I wonder if all possibilities for this child were exhausted.  How certain are they that it is a lifestyle issue?  What proof do they have the foster care is likely to help?  If he loses weight in foster care and is returned home and gains his weight back (as 95% of dieters do) will he be pulled again?

Also, it’s worth noting that he was taken away due to “imminent danger” and “Medical neglect” but his only health problem is sleep apnea which is well controlled through a CPAP machine. He is an honor roll student who participates in school activities.

Having read more than 100 articles on the subject it seems that doctors really have no idea what to do.  In some articles doctors say that he would need to weight 60 pounds to be considered healthy, in other articles doctors said that his target weight should be 150 pounds.  One article quotes the CDC as saying that it’s possible to get to and maintain a healthy weight but the research doesn’t support that.

The lawyer for the boys mother said that in his decades as a public defender, he has seen children left with parents who beat them or who had severe drug problems with the reasonsing that the danger didn’t meet the criteria of being immediate.  But this boy was removed from his home based on health issues that he does not actually have, but might get.  Does this mean that kids caught smoking will be removed from their homes because they might get cancer?  Where do we draw the line?  Already, even in the few cases that we have of putting kids into failure because of obesity we have one massive failure in the case of Anamarie Regino.  She was removed from home at 3 years old but it failed to improve her weight.  She was returned to her family and diagnosed with a genetic disorder that caused the weight gain.  Oops.

There are many concerns here:

It’s tricky to use body size as a diagnosis: 

  • What about families where there are more than one child who eat the same diet but only one meets the definition of “extreme obesity”? Do they do interventions with all the children?
  • The idea that you can tell how healthy a kid is by how much they weigh does a disservice to all kids, telling larger kids that they if healthy habits don’t make them thin then they can’t get healthier and telling thin kids that they are healthy because of their body size and regardless of their habits.

We don’t actually know that much  about childhood obesity:

Despite the fact that everyone and their overbearing mother thinks that they know exactly why we have a childhood obesity crisis, the truth is that nobody is sure.  There is considerable argument as to whether a crisis even exists. We don’t know if there are things in the environment that trigger some kids to gain a lot of weight, we don’t know if it’s that we have a fast food culture etc.  Nothing is proven here so no matter how vehemently someone says that they know, they don’t.  That makes it hard to find fault and place “blame.”

We don’t know how to make fat kids into thin kids:

  • Every weight loss method tested shows a less than 5% success rate over a five year period.  This is particularly bothersome in situations where children are placed in foster care, lose the weight and then return to their family with a 95% chance that they’ll regain the weight and their parents will be labeled as repeat offenders.
  • If they go to foster care and do not lose weight or gain weight, are the foster parents then at risk for being accused of neglect? What happens next?

Determining “Fault”

  • The system already deals with “failure to thrive” cases in which parents are suspected of starving their children.  Even those cases are problematic because sometimes there is a health issue with the child (celiacs disease for example or food allergies) that are causing the issue.
  • Unless the parents are force-feeding these kids, there are serious issues determining causality and fault to charge them with abuse.

Slippery Slope:

  • Where are we going with this?  Who is next?
  • What about smokers who raise kids?  Secondhand smoke contains more than 250 chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic (cancer-causing), including formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide. Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke are inhaling many of the same cancer-causing substances and poisons as smokers. Do we remove the ones who develop asthma? The ones with elevated blood pressure? Those born pre-term or with low birth weight?

What I think we really need to get out of this is how important it is for people to have information and access to the building blocks of health.   Information about healthy eating and movement in combination with access to affordable foods and safe, affordable movement options that kids enjoy, affordable accessible preventative health care (not just reactive sick care).  PE in every school and options that encourage a lifetime love of movement, rather than a lifetime of bitterness about PE. Dodgeball should go the way of the dinosaur.  What if schools could offer more than just sports:  dance, walking/hiking, Kinect style video games that incorporate movement etc?   And not just during a PE hour but before and after school and during lunch and free periods, even on weekends? What if they offered busses and share-a-ride systems to the local YMCA or to the schools after-hours PE program? Wondering where you’ll get the money?

We’ve talked about this before but every year we give the diet industry $60 Billion dollars. Can you imagine what we could do if we could take that money out of their back pocket and use it to create access to food and movement options?  If we stopped body shaming and bullying fat kids, allowing them to have the mental health that can only exist when they don’t live in a constant state of stigmatization would they be healthier?  I think so.

 

Published in: on December 1, 2011 at 6:13 am  Comments (36)  

36 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As always, your post was spot on and so well-written! Brava!

  2. I’m impressed that you’re writing about this so calmly, Ragen. When I heard about it, I was filled with a sense of fury and helplessness. To take a child away from his parents based on his appearance??!! To put him through the emotional turmoil of being yanked away from his family, friends and school and place him in strangers’ care when he is in no imminent danger of harm?? It is so sick that we live in a culture that would do this. It sounds like Nazi Germany! Apparently this kid is an honor student, something we usually attribute to doing well. Who the hell has determined he’s being “abused”?

  3. I originally saw this case on Gawker, and every single comment I managed to read made me so depressed and angry that I couldn’t read on. There were numerous people, on a site where I can usually read the comments (although not always), equating a child being overweight with starving a child. I’ve really been hoping you would cover this since I am honestly afraid of the treatment that other outlets give to stories like this, so thank you🙂

  4. You beat me to it! I’ve been wanting to write an article on my Tumblr about this myself. I’m so upset about it I think I still will.

    One of the articles I saw suggested putting the child in foster care AND GIVING HIM BYPASS SURGERY. At age 9. So taking him away from his mother and permanently mutilating him is the best they can offer?

    By the way, the mother did successfully get the child to lose weight via dieting. You know what happened, of course. It all came back. And social services is acting like this is HER fault.

    I believe a line has definitely been crossed. Our society is so fat phobic we take a large but otherwise healthy child out of his home – yet most cases of child sexual abuse that go to court fail. Ignorance prevails.

  5. I actually wrote this yesterday after I read a short story about this young boy and didn’t finish posting it. The story didn’t have much info about the little guy but I still feel this way.
    Yes, this is a very sorry state of affairs when who? decides a child should be taken away from his parents because of his weight. This is a very sick time we are living in. So, is the foster parent now going to starve the child and treat him like a disease? Is this really going to improve his outcome and chances for being healthy or happy? Has anyone actually determined if he is indeed unhealthy? Just because you are fat does not mean you are unhealthy contrary to what the $60 billion a year weight loss industry would have you believe. Stress is one of the biggest contributing factors to poor health. Is this child not going to suffer horrible stress and unhappiness at being torn from his family? Well, I guess they can take your child if you don’t agree to choose chemotherapy, radiation, vacines, diet and who knows what else. Who’s children are these anyway? Do we have any rights to make decisions for our own children? I guess only if the big people at the top think we should. Sounds a little like taking the poor little First Nations children away from their families so they can pound another language and another persons customs and values into their head. I for one would never have agreed to have a child if I had thought the world was going to be like this. Shame on those people responsible for this!

    • Just to mention, they HAVE removed a child because a parent would not have his cancer treated with chemotherapy. It was a HUGE deal in MN last year, the mom even tried to flee the state with her son but was caught and the child was put into chemo. So no, in some cases, we as parents have NO rights.

      I’ve tried to explain this in my parenting groups but no one will listen. For them, it’s all about the poor little fat boy who’s been set up for a lifetime of health issues and bullying and how DARE his mother do this to him! She SHOULD have her child taken from him! I tried to present another side saying that there are many reasons why a child that age would be that large and over and over from most of these mothers was the response that one is ONLY obese due to lifestyle choices and if you were doing the eating and exercising you’re supposed to, you wouldn’t be that fat to begin with. I am SO tired of banging my head into a wall. Everything I try to present is discredited, and worse I’m treated like an idiot. Because of this subject alone, I’m going to have to take a few days off from the internet because I can’t deal with it anymore. I cannot deal with the constant barrage of filth people spill out towards those who are obese. It’s just getting to where being online is not worth my time anymore.

  6. One more thing– sleep apnea isn’t always related to being fat– I know three people who’ve got it who aren’t fat.

    • That’s the thing with all sorts of “obesity-related” health problems. If research indicates some degree of correlation with obesity, logic and reason go out the window and everyone makes the assumptions that correlation=causation, the health problem is caused entirely by fat, and will be completely eliminated by the person getting thin. Now the Vague Future Health Threat provides a veneer of apparent logic when they dismiss all of the fat people who don’t have those problems, but what about thin people who do? Shouldn’t they raise questions about the “It’s your fault for getting fat” explanation? If a thin person can get sleep apnea (or diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, acid reflux, etc.), doesn’t that establish that the health problem has causes other than fatness, and raise the possibility that at least some fat people can develop those problems for the same reason thin people do?

      But no, it’s all “Fatness causes this, and that, and every other thing, and if you lose weight you will be instantly awesomely healthy!” Because I’m only imagining my thin, athletic brother with a cholesterol problem.

      • Yup cause those skinny people who have, those are the exceptions to the “rule” never mind that the rule might be flawed in the first place and based more on prejudices than anything else.

        There’s a woman here in my town (and I shared this story with Ragen through Twitter) who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. She’s not a smoker. She’s 25 and she’s thin (from what I can tell in the pictures that were posted with the story). The doctors are totally flabbergasted. This woman developed a cold that wouldn’t go away, went in and they found not only lung cancer but they also found that it went into the bone so she’s at stage four. They’re trying to figure out what to do for it and they can’t even give her a prognosis because this is SO outside what they’re used to. Everyone who has heard of her condition is shocked because she is the LAST person they expected to get this kind of disease.

  7. I am just outraged by this whole thing. Some people are just genetically, metabolically larger than others, though I admit that this child is very large for his age. Dieting doesn’t work, it is damaging to health, & being ripped from a loving home & treated as if there is something wrong with you is VERY damaging. This mother is not guilty of child abuse, but the people who took him away from her are. Being fat does not constitute being in danger, it does not automatically mean that a person is sick or soon will be.

    And indeed people of any size can have sleep apnea. I hate the ‘teen’ programs, but sometimes when my granddaughter is here, she watches them. She was watching ‘I Carly’ one night & Carly’s friends came into her bedroom to find her. She was wearing what was quite obviously a CPAP machine; she explained that it ‘helps keep me from snoring so much.’ Now, Miranda Cosgrove, who plays Carly, is not just not fat, she is extremely thin. I am sure that the folks at Nickelodeon, giving their history of pushing the ‘Subway’ diet & promoting the ‘Let’s Move” campaign, etc., would be shocked to have anyone think they did anything to help disprove a fat stereotype, but accidentally they did so a little bit in this case.

    And it is getting scary to try to have & raise children, to try to live, without a thousand nannies getting in your way & trying to take your children & your ownership of your own body away from you. And the damn nannies cannot even agree on what we are doing right or wrong. Just this morning on the news, they were passing on some claptrap about it being harmful to health to eat more than 3 times per day, when in most places I read (& have even been told by medical people) that it is often better for a person’s health to eat something 4 or 5 times during the day, to eat smaller amounts frequently rather than larger amounts infrequently.

  8. Two thoughts when I see this: My brother was adopted and he ate worse than my sister and I but was rail thin, If the state had taken away me and my sis for being fat they would have removed the two healthy eaters from the home. (especially once he was a teenager and he could get to 7-11 on his own oh boy the crap he ate there.

    What about anorexic teenagers – should they be removed from their home?

    Its so, so sad to me. Funny how it gets so much media attention but when the children are returned home because they DIDN’T lose weight in foster care – the news outlets are silent.

    I refused the pediatrician yesterday weighing my 10 year old soccer playing daughter and the doctor was so mad at me I thought her head would explode.

    and on the gym thing – news was reporting locally yesterday that one school district here is offering yoga and its the best thing since sliced bread and I thought no shit sherlock, something for the kids that hate softball and soccer to do – is this really shocking to people?

    • Getting weighed by the doctor as a kid was permanently scarring. They used to sit me down and show my growth chart as compared to the “average” growth. They would say “here are normal kids, and here’s you” as they pointed to my line soaring above the rest, and then asked my parents to put me on a diet… at age 5. NEVERMIND that I was the tallest kid (not just girl, KID) in school until the 6th grade when everyone caught up to me (the doctors didn’t offer any solution to my tallness, however). So you can imagine what I went through elementary school thinking… “I’m not normal because I’m fat.” Good for you for refusing. I have a hard time even going to the doctor now and I haven’t yet convinced one NOT to weigh me.

      • I even wondered why people liked me as a kid. I had a lot of great friends, all but one were very thin, and I would always ask myself, “I’m fat, I’m not normal, why do they like me?”

        Sad.

      • Breaks. my. heart.

        I have so much to say about that conversation with the doctor I”ll have to blog myself about it!

    • You can refuse your child to be weighed!? Oh my goodness. That opens my eyes quite a bit! I don’t know if my pediatrician would let me do that – it’s about the only thing aside from measuring height that she does on her checkups. Since my kid is up to date on her shots I decided to skip this year’s check up because I know she’d make a fuss over my kid’s weight. I haven’t noticed anything out of the ordinary with her, so I have no real need for the check up.

  9. Thanks for writing this. I expected the mainstream media coverage of this story to be problematic (especially the comments!), but it’s been the case even among a few bloggers I follow, which I generally expect to have a somewhat different take on things.

  10. Yes, I was enraged when I first heard the story about this boy. Putting an overweight child in a foster home? The mother can’t get him to lose weight…and the foster home will? WTF? Especially when we know on some level that many foster parents (not all, but many) are just in it for the money and often the conditions in these foster homes are intolerable. Our fat-phobic society can’t seem to get a grip on the fact that there will always be people who are fat. Some people are just meant to be that way, and no amount of dieting or messing with their heads is gonna change that. The world needs to wake the eff up!

  11. …doctors really have no idea what to do.

    And because they will not accept this in any real way, they enable the denial fuelling this action and erases anything fat people have to say over and above, “Yes I obey you oh superior fat hater”.

    One article quotes the CDC as saying that it’s possible…

    Possible, isn’t good enough and even if it was, everything that works has a failure rate. Calorie restriction doesn’t. Therefore you cannot fail you can only succeed.

    As for the slippery slope, they keep trying to extend it, but tend to withdraw, because other things don’t tend to be backed by such an extraordinary consensus of expert opinion from all quarters.

  12. Excellent response Ragen!. Thank you for writing this. I was so upset when I heard about this case and immediately thought about all the children who live in homes of people who smoke..not to villify smokers but I’m sure the government will come for their kids next. I can only imagine the psychological damage they are doing removing this child from his/her family.

    • I think everyone is bring up great points about the probable failure of this gov’t imposed solution and about the problematic way that society views and deals with body size. Clearly dieting is as unhealthy a lifestyle as a sedentary lifestyle eating unhealthy food.

      However, I don’t see the slippery slope the same way. A more accurate analogy to make would be if a parent allowed their third grader to smoke cigarets. Clearly society has a difficulty finding a proper balance between a parent’s right and a child’s welfare (not to mention how to rectify issues in a way that does the least damage to both parties). It is because of this that it is important to engage in productive conversations with others of different view points and to not foster fear-mongering (something we can all agree is rife in discussions over weight).

  13. I’m really on the fence with this, and I think a lot of other folks are too. An 8 yo who weighs that much clearly is not thriving where he is, and I completely agree that it’s just a matter of time until something happened. This was a preventative move, not a reactionary one. So yes, I agree that something should have been done, and completely support that.

    But really, was a foster home the only way to go here? Are the foster parents nutritional and exercise experts? What about metabolic ones?

    There are three ways this kid is like this: he eats crappily or way too much (either by his own hand, ignorance, or force-feeding) and doesn’t move enough, he’s got a metabolic problem that is beyond his control, or a combo (I’m going with the third one). Children that young are NOT meant to be that weight because it puts extreme pressure on developing joints and the smaller heart of a child. It can actually deform the skeletal structure. Just because you can’t see it now doesn’t mean it’ll hide forever. That’s medical science, not conjecture, and as much as I follow HAES and Fat Acceptance, I also believe in scientific fact.

    So taking him from his house and tossing him into foster care is the answer? This kid’s got an out-of-whack body…now we’re going to screw with his head with a well-crafted program of shaming and shock-dieting? This is the answer? It’s not a stretch to say that he’s already being picked on and humiliated at school for being this size (bet he’s the first one picked off in Dodgeball), so the words will be nothing new to him. But not having his mum there is the final blow, and now he’s got all this media attention because boy howdy, to the media love to rip open a wounded gazelle.

    I agree that many cases of child neglect get swallowed by the system or just overlooked. No argument there. But this isn’t one of those times. Something definitely had to be done, and it was. I just don’t think foster care was the best move. How about a nutritionist living in-house with them for a month to watch what the eating patterns are like? Or a two-week stay at a hospital where he could get proper nutrition and learn how to eat more nutritionally sound meals? From what I’ve read, the mum really didn’t know what to do and needed help, and hopefully, everyone will get it now. Just not sure this was the way to go…

    • Hi Yorkie,

      Thanks for the comment, I do think that this is a really difficult issue that puts a lot of people feeling like you do.

      I think that this is tricky – first because we don’t know what’s causing it and it’s not ok to take action based on a guess. As far as failure to thrive, his weight is definitely higher than his peers but he is an honor roll student and participates in school activities. His only health problem is sleep apnea (which isn’t exclusive to fat people) and that’s controlled. He may be picked last for dodgeball (although again that’s a guess) or he may be picked first for football. We don’t know the trajectory of his weight (was he born heavy and followed a normal trajectory or is this weight gain a sudden spike?) I disagree that we can say with certainty that it’s just a matter of time until something happened and I think it’s a dangerous precedent to set to remove a kid because of what might happen to him. Caseworkers say that they worked with the family for 20 months – why was the intervention unsuccessful.

      I think that a “failure to thrive” status, and especially ripping a kid from a loving family into foster care, should require something more than “the kid is fat” and a bunch of guesses as to why he is fat and what might happen to him in the future. Just my thoughts.

      ~Ragen

      • the hardest thing for a professional involved – doctors, therapists, researchers, social workers is to say “we don’t know”

        we are not sure what is at play here – but whatever the factor is being ripped from you home and parents is NOT the solution.

    • One of the articles I read said that they had the kid doing all the right things, having him move his body and eat better than he had been but they weren’t working as fast as the social worker thought they should so the social worker took him.

      This is one of my nightmares, I have a seven year old who is in the 98th percentile if not off the charts at times and she is actually the healthiest kid in the house when it comes to eating healthy and moving.

  14. Does anyone know how tall this child is?

  15. What if this kid has some kind of medical, treatable, illness? A thyroid imbalance can cause massive weight gain, for example. They may have looked at that of course (we’re expressly not being given any details), but what if they haven’t? What if a pill a day could solve this problem and make him a happier kid? Trust me, it sucks feeling sleepy and slightly ill all the time. Oh, and how tall is he? Boys aren’t usually growing that much at his age, but he could be one of the outliers and be the perfect linebacker for his high school someday😛

  16. “The mother wonders what role genetics plays in the boy’s condition — both she and his father and some other family members are overweight, she said. However, she also has a 16-year-old son who is tall and thin. ”

    Is the tall thin son healthy? Is the fat son unhealthy? We have medical tests, why not use them?

    To put a family through this is totally abhorrent. My heart goes out to this family and the “helpful” social workers should be ashamed of themselves.

  17. Thanks for your wonderful, persuasive writing as always.

    I spotted this news story as well and it reminded me of another about, more or less, the criminalization of obesity in Japan. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1hqHo6lyUU&sns=fb

    Would love to hear your thoughts on it. My reactions to these kinds of things are usually just things like *palmface* and *jawfloor.* I am rarely able to articulate exactly why those are my reactions to skeptical folks. I usually just point them in your direction. So, thanks.

  18. “‘Medical neglect’ but his only health problem is sleep apnea which is well controlled through a CPAP machine.”

    Kid’s windpipe collapses against itself from weight of fat on his neck and chest when he sleeps? No prob; there’s an app for that.

  19. “One article quotes the CDC as saying that it’s possible to get to and maintain a healthy weight but the research doesn’t support that.”

    Well, I think it’s possible to maintain a healthy weight… but I think they’re missing the boat by defining ‘healthy weight’ as a particular range of numbers. Shouldn’t a person’s ‘healthy weight’ be the weight they’re at when they’re treating their body well?

    • Hi,

      I understand what you are saying, I think that the term “healthy weight” is a misnomer. Although there may be a weight that people maintain when they are treating their body well, the weight is not what makes them healthy and so I think that we would do best to completely separate the concepts of weight and health.

      ~Ragen

  20. “Does this mean that kids caught smoking will be removed from their homes because they might get cancer? ”

    this seems like a bad comparison to me- You’re comparing something that can’t be prevented/reversed with something that can. So yeah, if a parent was allowing an eight year old to smoke they most certainly would be taken away and rightfully so. I really have no idea why smoking is compared to being fat so much in the fatosphere- I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen it. If we’re trying to convince someone that being fat isn’t unhealthy and isn’t a choice and doesn’t hurt other people… we probably shouldn’t be comparing it to something that is unhealthy, is a choice, and hurts other people.

    and you compare it to people who expose their children to second hand smoke or refuse preventative medical treatment to their children- those are actual harmful things that can be prevented- unlike body size.

  21. Wow. We have kids left to rot in homes where they’re beaten and molested, but we remove this poor little boy from his parents? Not a good enough reason to traumatize the family, in my opinion.

    “PE in every school and options that encourage a lifetime love of movement, rather than a lifetime of bitterness about PE.” I laughed out loud at this– but it’s because I do have said lifetime bitterness towards PE. My junior year of high school, I switched from regular PE to a beginning dance class. I’d never taken dance in my life, but I worked my butt off in that class, and I did more physical activity in that single semester of dance than I did over a cumulative 8-year period in standard PE (usually in a class with 150 other students, all being yelled at to do laps around the track while the instructors played football, and screamed at us to “hussle” and “run faster!”) I was so happy for the change… while it lasted. After that term I was forced to return to regular PE because they didn’t do the “physical fitness test” in the dance class, so it didn’t count as real exercise, apparently.

  22. I worked in this field and this seems like the wrong approach. If the child were placed out of the home is needs to be after all other approaches failed. Have the parents attempted to have the child seem by a doctor, nutritionist or other experts? If the parents refuse to address the problem at all it might be considered medical neglect (especially if the parents and social worker have a confrontational relationship). Still, if a child needed intensive treatment then the place they need to be is a medically supervised residential program not just a foster home. I have also seen cases where it was very difficult for parents to get good medical treatment if they had inadequate medical insurance and couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket for treatment. There is so much red tape many times that a parent has practically be a social worker and advocate for their child. Not all parents are good at this or have time to do it well (if they have a job with long or inflexible hours that makes it harder).

  23. This post is right on the mark and excellent. Taking children from their parents by force has occurred before with painful results to the children and parents. I’m thinking of Aboridginal children in Australia and Indian children in the west and I think also in Canada. In these cases it had racial overtones and discrimination as part of the equation. In some of these occasions their were apologies usually long after the separation.
    In these cases as well as this fat child, discrimination was a basic factor in its being applied.The real goal is to mentally screw up the child and parents, with the intent of unstated eugenics as a goal.Whether its putting a child on a weight loss diet, bariatric surgery, social ostrasism, fat shaming in all its variations etc. the goal is silently to eliminate fat people from the human race.Whether you agree or disagree with this explanation it clearly suggests responses to these assaults .One of which is to have more children and to protect them by arming them with the wisdom learned from the school of hard knocks.

  24. I’m sitting here, it’s almost 4am, I’m crying because I’ve never in my life felt validated until now. I’ve struggled with obesity my entire life. I know it seems silly, but I’ve always felt like I never was good enough for the system (old school dodgeball PE), not that the system has failed me. Your suggestions are wonderful and I’m going to write everyone I can to make change happen, to help kids live movement, not loathe it.
    Much love to you and what you are doing, your blogs have helped me love myself again.


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