Those Pesky Personal Choices

There was a discussion on Morning Edition today about an eight year old boy in Cuyahoga County who weighed over 200 pounds. He has been taken away from his mother after the social workers, for over a year, have tried to help the family manage the boy’s weight issues.

It was determined by doctors that the problem was not a genetic one. Therefore, it was believed that the obesity was one of a poor diet, excessive calories, and lack of exercise.

Apparently the boy, now in foster care, is getting more help but is also having thoughts of suicide and other troubling behaviors.

Included in the radio debate were people on both sides of the issue. One was a person who knew the child and the facts of the case. Another woman was a family advocate who argued for keeping the child in the home. The case history shows the mother is a loving person and there are no signs of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse.

Cited as reasons for removing the child were all the symptoms that are associated with obesity: sleep apnea, diabetes, heart problems, and low metabolism.

Of course, the family advocate believes that no child should be removed from a loving home.  Her argument is that an eight year old is too young to understand the complicated laws and procedures that are involved and is too young to manage a diet by himself.

On the other hand, it is clear the mother can’t manage it either – even with help. In the last year the boy gained sixty pounds.

I’ve written before about the problem of overweight people I see here in downtown Cleveland. I know they eat junk because I pick up enough of the candy wrappers, potato chip bags, and soda cans to know that it is a substantial part of their diet, well at least a major part of their snack diet. In the shelters around here they may attempt to serve healthy food, but that also ends up on the sidewalk.

It’s true that healthy food is expensive. At Dave’s Market a carton of strawberries costs $3.99. If you can get to the West Side Market the same carton costs $2.50. But that trip is not possible for everyone.

People are grappling with the problem of childhood obesity. Apparently over two million kids are obese. Those are kids in the 95th percentile for their age.  That’s a lot of health problems that could be prevented. No wonder the social workers were concerned for this poor kid.

So what can be done? Short of having someone living with the family what can the boy and his mother do to change the outcome? My guess is that the mother is also obese. She may have had a lifetime of poor diet and lack of exercise. Maybe the entire extended family has a problem. And now, after all these years of ingrained habit, the government steps in and takes a child away.

This solution, while well meaning, will not solve the problem. The child will eventually go back to his mother. Those tasty, cheap and fast and low nutrition foods will creep back. Let’s face it. If I had a choice between a bag of potato chips and a bag of broccoli, I might choose the chips too. Sometimes immediate gratification wins over long term health.

So we are talking about a societal change.  I do see it happening slowly. People are now able to view the calories in their food even at restaurants. Healthier choices are offered at MacDonald’s. School cafeterias are being watched. The First Lady is on the bandwagon.

But how do we get this into a habit for children? And how do we get these habits to be a life long lifestyle change? At our home we know how to lose weight. It’s the keeping it off that is hard. If it is hard for us, imagine how hard it is for a kid.

I don’t have quick answers. What you eat and how much is like so many other personal choices. The decision has to come from within each person and can’t be mandated by the government.  But let’s at least start with education- yes even brainwashing- about the consequences of personal choices.

If we don’t start now imagine the diabetes, cancer and heart issue epidemic in forty years.


2 responses to “Those Pesky Personal Choices”

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  1. Fran says:

    I am appalled that they would traumatize a child by removing him from a loving home. That will make the boy overeat to self soothe.

  2. Karen says:

    I wish there would be more follow up on this story since this will be coming up more often.