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Fat, Families, and Government Fear

May 24, 2012

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.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    May 24, 2012 10:28 am

    The outrageous thing about all of this is that child is now 9 years old (maybe 10), is still fat (173 lbs for 9 or 10 years old is fat unless he’s 6 feet tall already), but because he managed to go from 218 lbs to 166 lbs, he could be returned to his mother. He lost 52 lbs, and has gained 7 lbs of that back (lost 23% of his starting weight, gained back 7% of what he lost – not looking good for him keeping off all of the weight he lost). That’s just in one year, even with the cooking classes for his mother, the free Y membership, and the Big Brothers/Big Sisters assignment. Sure, DCFS has closed the case, for now. What happens if (more likely when) he gains all/most of that lost weight back in spite of everything they’ve done to try and insure that he keeps it off? Because even though they say the case is “closed”, you know damned good and well that because they’re paying for that Y membership and those cooking classes, they’re monitoring what’s going on with him, no matter what they say to the press or to his mother or her lawyer or anyone else (who, me, cynical?). It’s all feel-good BS now, and “have to take care of his mental/emotional well-being as well as his physical health” hype, but let him gain that weight back and they’ll be right back there, investigating his mother and blaming her, blaming him for failing to stay thinner.

    • vesta44 permalink
      May 24, 2012 10:44 am

      My bad, my math was off up there, he lost 23% of his starting weight, and gained back 13% of what he lost, not 7% of what he lost. That 7 lbs is 3% of his starting weight, tho, which means he’s managed to keep off 20% of what he lost, which isn’t that bad, but considering that he’s been on diets before, doesn’t bode well for maintaining that 20% loss in the long run (just sayin’).

  2. JeninCanada permalink
    May 24, 2012 11:24 am

    There is almost nothing more terrifying to me than the ever present threat that Someone will think I’m an Unfit Parent and Take My Son Away. I get choked up just *thinking* about it; Gabe isn’t fat, but I am Pagan, and I know in some places that’s a huge black mark when it comes to things like child custody or other legal proceedings. I can only begin to imagine the lonliness, pain, frustration and terrible terrible shame and guilt that comes with having your child be taken by the State, and double all that for something you have little to no control over but *think* you should. My heart goes out to every parent out there who’s being scrutinized for daring to have a fat child and Not Doing Something About It.

    • lifeonfats permalink
      May 24, 2012 7:51 pm

      I’ve never understood the fear of Pagans and Paganism. Most of the customs in our mainstream holidays are taken directly from Pagan practices. And unlike evangelical/fundamental Christianity, Pagans, as far as my experience goes, don’t force their beliefs on others and insist you convert or you’ll be doomed for eternity. It’s the fear of “the other” that makes societies become extremely unreasonable and irrational.

      • Pyctsi permalink
        May 25, 2012 5:24 am

        Pagans all worship the devil, didn’t you know that? /end sarcasm

        Most of our mainstream holidays are based on Pagan dates and practices as they were deliberately chosen to make converting the ‘ignorant’ easier so they picked some of the images to be bad and took the dates and shoved masks on the gods and gave them Christian names. As a lightly/non practicing Pagan I find the extreme Christians get very offended when you point it out, kinda like extreme fat haters get offended when you point out the flaws in their arguments.

        I was at a local Pagan conference recently and did some fat/size acceptance activism; once with a girl who thought my size just meant there was more of me to love but her small tummy roll was awful and another talking to a naturally thin girl who gets accused by strangers of having an eating disorder (no way anyone with the energy to dance as she did wasn’t getting enough nutrition).

        Most Pagans are very accepting of other people, but they aren’t immune when it comes to themselves and apparently there is no size that can escape The Judgement Of Strangers Who Know Best >.<

        Also as a fat Pagan with Goth tenancies it's probably just as well I don't have children, I have a sharp tongue and a decreasing tolerance for obnoxious bullsh*t and there is sooooo much of it in the world.

        • JeninCanada permalink
          May 25, 2012 11:09 am

          I blame a lot of the current mistrust and outright dislike of Paganism of the ‘satanic panic’ bullshit that went around in the 70s and 80s. Those people who were fed the stories are adults now who make policies and run businesses, etc, and they remember the propaganda by dudes like Jack Chick and that one mom who was absolutely CONVINCED her son committed suicide because his character in D&D got killed. Sad. So Pagans in the States especially have to worry about being ‘out of the broom closet’ at work or with certain family. So much for freedom of religion!

  3. May 25, 2012 6:25 pm

    Interesting, the Pagan thing. I don’t think discrimination is as bad for Pagans in the UK, beyond people thinking they’re a bit silly/strange. I do think Pagans get stamped with a “old hippie” type of stereotype (for instance, someone my mother knows is a Pagan and the comment from everyone is simply that he “likes running round in the woods naked”). I don’t think – and I certainly hope – that Pagans have trouble with the authorities with their kids and that.
    I’ve always found it odd that a nation which eschews state religion like the USA is so much more religious than the UK, which has a state Church. Weird!

    • Fab@54 permalink
      May 26, 2012 7:15 am

      Aaah yes Emma; America – Land of Ironies… 😉

      Paganism was my spirituality of choice since around 1975. I didn’t feel comfortable enough to ‘come out of the broom closet’ (with the exception of very few close family members) until the early 90’s. I already had my three kids, but the youngest was about 9 or 10 and I figured anyone could tell by then that my paganism hadn’t ‘damaged’ or changed them in any way.
      As a matter of fact, they were all three being schooled in our family’s traditional religion (CCD classes / Catholicism) as well as being aware of my spirituality. They made their own choices regarding personal spiritual paths once they hit their teens.
      So, I became very out-front and public with my Paganism.

      I still think there’s plenty of bias and fear for Pagans, even today. However, with the exception of the deeply indoctrinated evangelical sort of folks, I really don’t think many people take Paganism as a ‘serious’ issue or threat any longer.
      Most traditional religious people probably don’t take Paganism seriously at all, really, (naked hippies cavorting in the woods under the moon, dontchaknow). And that’s OK, too.

      I find the general cultural bias and hatred for fat people is way WAY more prevalent and intense than any bias toward Paganism; well, these days anyway. Lucky us – pagan or not.

      End note:
      I have within the last 2+ years drifted into a new spiritual path and no longer consider myself “Pagan” although my new spirituality (Buddhism) still kinda fits under the “pagan umbrella” for many many people. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever find another path more suited for me – especially after so many years! But that is a whole ‘nother story.

  4. Jennifer permalink
    May 28, 2012 1:53 pm

    I was a fat child and doctors insisted I was doing it to myself thru twinkies and sloth… Over 30 years later I learn my body reacts very badly to gluten, and avoiding it caused my weight to go down a little without any extra effort on my part. I have celiac disease, and a significant sensitivity to any level of contamination, and I feel better than I’ve ever felt in my life now. (I think I still have a long way to go & I’ve got some irreversible damage)… And I get sad often thinking about how many kids have undiagnosed conditions like I did because they didn’t know enough or look hard enough. Just because a doctor says “he’s fine! Lay off the desserts!” doesn’t mean that’s the end of the line. Even when I flat out asked if I could have celiac, doctors sad it was impossible because of my size. I feel so sorry for the fat kids falling through the cracks of the healthcare field because the providers are blinded by corporate and media bias and our culture is conducting a witch hunt for fat people.

    I sure hope that boy can recover from his traumatic experiences of being a fat child in a fat-hating world.

  5. May 29, 2012 10:12 am

    Yes, you can starve a child 50 pounds lighter, but that won’t ensure a lifetime of thinness. The mother says she has tried to make him lose weight before. Has he returned to this weight each time? And, as vesta pointed out, he’s already regaining. Does this mean that each time he returns to his baseline weight he’ll be whisked away to his uncle’s for weight loss?

    I just read a stat that 10% of obese people are leptin deficient, which corresponds to the amount of obese children in America. Could it possibly be that there’s a segment of the population that is genetically predisposed to being heavier, and will continue to weight cycle despite our best efforts? Nah, it’s just bad parenting (scoff).


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