Fat, Families, and Government Fear
Trigger warning: Discussion of a child whose mother tried to make him lose weight and the people who most recently made him lose weight.
Last November, the never-ending panic over childhood obesity was fueled further by the story of an 8 year-old Cleveland, Ohio boy who was taken away from his mother and placed into protective care by the Department of Children and Family Services because he weighed over 200 pounds. Medical experts who examined the child said his weight was not the result of a medical condition, but of poor diet. The mother, who said she was actively trying to decrease his weight to no avail, fought to keep her son and failed.
Following the story, it seemed everyone in the medical community and the media had an opinion on whether fat children should be taken away from their parents. While many agreed with the decision the DCFS made, many also thought it was wrong (although not for entirely altruistic reasons).
Well, just last week, that same third grade boy was returned to his mother after his weight decreased to 166 pounds (173 at the time the article was written). DCFS agreed to close their case and the mother’s lawyer was pleased, saying,
We are happy the county terminated protective services. We think the case was ill-advised. Our plan was to get him out of the system as soon as possible. This whole thing has been about his weight with no concern to his emotional state.
That’s something that a lot of us in this community always stress when it comes to fat shaming.
Unlike the first story, the followup didn’t generate the rabid, sensational headlines we saw last year, which got me wondering why. Of course, one reason I thought of is that, well, the DCFS and the Cleveland courts got what they wanted: the boy lost weight. Now the county is paying for family healthy cooking classes, a big brother assignment with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, and he’s received a free membership to the local Y. Maybe they consider that another possible casualty of the childhood obesity epidemic has been saved.
But the cynic in me thought of another reason: a lot of people can’t comprehend that taking fat children away from their parents is emotionally, physically and mentally devastating, and maybe, just maybe, that all kids aren’t fat because they can’t stop putting down the Twinkies and give up playing video games.
Despite medical experts claiming the boy’s weight was a result of dietary choices, I doubt most kids that young reach 200 pounds strictly because of eating. And if the mother claimed that she did try several techniques to get him to lose weight, and all of them failed, wouldn’t that set off alarm bells that something else may be going on inside his body besides too much sugar, salt, fat, etc.?
But when it comes to fat children, anti-obesity experts and mouthpieces refuse to hear those alarm bells. It’s more simplistic for them to just say junkfood, fast food and no physical activity is the cause behind every big kid in the world. The genetics factor is usually ignored or argued that it can be fought. The income level factor, while gradually being understood, is also argued that it can be fought if access to better transportation, healthier foods, and community activities like cooking classes and urban gardens are created and promoted.
As we all know, that is easier said than done, especially when the money is thrown, not at improving overall health and nutrition, but strictly at public weight loss initiatives. And again, as we all know, that mindset really hasn’t worked either, thanks to some public backlash against First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign and a failed attempt by the state of Arkansas to reduce the BMI of their children.
It’s extremely tiresome and disheartening to see families torn apart by fat bigotry and fat shame. It’s infuriating that Social Service offices, who are already overworked with cases of actual abuse and neglect, now have to play weight police to remove children from functional homes. Children who are assumed to be neglected simply because of waist size, spurred by local governments that have fallen for the anti-obesity rhetoric.
It’s so frustrating that the media has nothing better to do than to fan the flames of anti-obesity hysteria and give air, and internet, time to fearmongers, yet ignore voices of those who say that weight obsession is unhealthy.