Likening obesity to child abuse
Can you imagine Social Services storming into your home like Special Ops and seizing your children because of what you’ve fed them?
Taking them away because you’ve allowed them a steady diet of Doritos and Twisters?
Declaring you unfit because you put sugary juice in your toddler’s bottle instead of milk?
Seems extreme. But it has come to that.
Last year, social workers in Cleveland removed a third grader - who topped 200 pounds and suffered from sleep apnea - from his mother’s home, citing his increasing weight as a form of medical neglect.
The subject has been debated ever since David Ludwig and Lindsey Murtagh of Harvard’s School of Public Health advocated last year for the removal of severely obese children from parents who don’t address the issue.
Don’t think it can’t happen here. It already has. Last year, a 13-year-old girl who weighed more than 400 pounds was removed from her home after experiencing medical problems. She’s back home now with her family, which also received nutritional counseling.
See, we’ve got a severe childhood obesity problem in Philadelphia. According to the Department of Human Services, 41 percent of kids here are classified as obese - that is, one out of four kids has a body mass index at the 95th percentile or higher. Not so shocking given that adult obesity is off the charts.
I’d call it an epidemic when, for the first time, DHS nurses have to use scales with a 400-pound capacity so that they can better weigh the 12 morbidly obese kids they are already monitoring.
We can argue all day over whether putting juice in a sippy cup constitutes parental abuse, but the fact is, when more children are developing Type 2 diabetes - a disease once associated only with adults - something has to change.
“It’s becoming more of an issue,” understated DHS Commissioner Ann Marie Ambrose.
“We don’t want to remove children. . . . For us, this is about being preventive and trying to educate.”
A poverty link
There’s a reason obesity goes hand in hand with poverty. In poorer communities, it seems as if everything works against good nutrition. Leading the way - the availability of cheap processed food. (I mean, have you seen KFC’s Double Down offering? Bacon and cheese sandwiched between a pair of deep-fried chicken patties? And it’s supposed to be the “breadless” option?)
You know what I mean. There are plenty of fast-food rows, but you’re lucky to find a grocery store.
Not to mention humongous portion sizes and the absence of exercise. Heck, some schools don’t even offer scheduled recess anymore, and gym has been cut as well.
Cindy Rodriguez, a Hunting Park committeewoman who works with many parents in her community, attended the first DHS town hall meeting on childhood obesity in West Kensington this week.
“We love our kids. But sometimes parents don’t know better,” says Rodriguez, 32, a mother of two. “We eat rice and beans and ribs and stuff. That’s how Puerto Ricans are.”
While her son and daughter are not obese, she has family members with kids who are.
On the same day that Michelle Obama celebrated new federal rules for healthier options in school lunches, parents nibbled on fresh-cut fruits and veggies as they listened to a panel of local health experts present practical and useful information.
Ripping sugary juice - a favorite target of health officials - as nothing more than “junk food for toddlers,” DHS medical director Cindy Christian suggested it’s better to “eat your juice” by consuming more fruits.
Giridhar Mallya, director of policy and planning for the Department of Health, says more than 600 corner stores now offer fresh meats and produce. And for every $5 worth of food stamps spent at farmers’ markets, shoppers will get an additional $2 worth of fruits and vegetables.
“We’re trying to shape an environment where people will make the healthy choice rather than the easy choice,” Mallya says.
“I think it’s a good thing, what DHS is trying to do,” said Charlene Samuels, a 44-year-old mother of two, who adds that she could stand to lose a few pounds herself. “I’ve never heard of so many children being obese. We need to do something about this problem.”
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