The News Item I Can’t Shake

Sure, there are a lot of news items that are hard to forget once you’ve heard them; terrible things happen every day.  Children go missing and don’t come home.  Widespread natural disasters and tragedies occur all around us.  There are many things that should bother me more than this does.  But I can’t shake this.

“This” is the bit of pseudo-scientific deliberation that has been making the rounds on the internet at alarming speed; the opinion piece by a very well-respected and widely known doctor, David Ludwig, who reportedly believes that it may be a good idea to take obese children away from their parents and place them in foster care for their own good.  At first, I read it with curiosity.  Then I read it again, with indignation.  Then I started trying to research it.  I was sure I’d read wrong.  I found the story again, and again, site after site, and soon I realized that I hadn’t read anything wrong.  And then I got angry, and scared, and sad.

This is so hard for me to write about.  I almost didn’t, but Bettina of The Lunch Tray published her own take on it today, and as I started to write a comment in response, the floodgates opened.  I wrote passionately.  I wrote things that I didn’t even knew I felt so deeply, until they were out, and then as I examined them I realized that I DID feel them, and I do.  And I can’t shake them.

I think I was more eloquent in the heat of that moment, on Bettina’s comments board, than I could be if I tried to re-create the thoughts and feelings now.  So I’m doing something I rarely do: I’m cutting and pasting my comments from her site to this post.  Please bear with me.  This is hard.

1) INTERVENING for the sake of these children could be done in a very different way from REMOVING them. Tearing families apart because of a child’s weight, when there are so many complex factors that may contribute to it, is shocking to me and may cause long-term psychological implications that we can’t even fathom. What about designing a whole new paradigm? I don’t know what it would include — live-in dietary aides? Supervised mealtimes? Daily dietician visits? Family relocation to a facility that works 24-7 with them to retool their lifestyle and their way of being together? I don’t know. But none of those solutions are as drastic as taking kids away. 
2) Our foster care system is shaky at best. Case workers are overloaded. We hear all the time about children who are severely abused and neglected, who die because they “slip through the cracks” of an overburdened system. Now let’s complicate things and put more strain on the system by adding to it kids who are too big. That makes no sense to me. Too much drain on resources.
3) Sure, now it’s the small fraction of kids who’d be recommended for this program; but what’s to say the guidelines/parameters don’t change at some point? What’s to say that 10 or 20 years down the road, our country’s still way too heavy, and somebody says “Great…we’ve got to take away MORE kids to fight this?” Who’s deciding? Where are they going to draw the line?
4) It’s size-ist. Yes, there are horrible health implications. Nobody denies that. But at a certain point, it just becomes punishing people for being large or for having children who are large. No matter what your justification is, that’s not okay. It’s no more okay than it was fifty years ago when babies with Down Syndrome were taken from their families and put into institutions.
5) Weight is not the only measure of parenting. What about skinny kids who are fed unhealthy crap and may have lurking disease? What about kids who are normal weight but are failing school, doing drugs, engaging in risky behaviors, spending too much time in front of violent video games, etc., etc.? Nobody takes those kids away from their parents. Nobody says that their problems are such a reflection of their parenting that they can’t live at home anymore. Come on.

Now here’s where we get to the part that hurts.  Really hurts.

6) My kid is only a few pounds overweight, despite my desperate attempts to resolve the issue, and I already don’t want to take him to the doctor. I do, because I have to, but I’m so emotionally worn out from being shamed and treated like a bad parent because of his size. When your child is overweight, you don’t get credit for how smart they are. You don’t get credit for how kind they are. You don’t get to talk pleasantly about their developmental milestones, their wonderful gifts, their many successes. You don’t even get to point out that your kid hasn’t been sick all year, is active and happy, and shows no signs of the supposed wretched illness the extra weight is supposed to cause. The only thing doctors want to talk about, when your kid is even a pound above that magic line, is WHAT’S WRONG WITH THEM AND WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU. I already get treated like a second-class citizen in the health care system. I can’t imagine how much worse it could be, with every mounting pound, with every doctor’s visit, if the threat of some nebulous future that might include TAKING MY CHILD AWAY no matter what I’m trying to do to help him, were hanging over my head.

Do I really think that L. will ever get so big that someone would take him away from me?  No, but then again, I wasn’t sure he’d be overweight at all.  How am I to know?  And the point, anyway, is that I can imagine this, truly imagine how horrible it must be.  I’m the parent of a child who’s just another statistic to the researchers, and that, bluntly put, just sucks.

My sister D. tells me I have to let this anger and fear and doubt about L.’s size roll off my back.  “Channel your inner duck,” she tells me — something we’ve been saying to each other for years, in situations where letting something go is the better choice than confronting it or letting it fester.  But we’re less than two weeks from his next check-up, and already I’ve got the knot in my stomach.  I’m not finding that inner duck. 

I have to, though, so I can keep on doing what I think is the right thing for him, and keep being positive even as I privately and obsessively try to figure out what the “right” numbers, the “good” height and weight numbers, should be.  So in honor of L., I proclaim the following:

My son is beautiful.
My son is sweet.
My son is intelligent.
My son is kind.
My son is creative.
My son is compassionate.
My son is funny.
My son is HEALTHY.
My son is AMAZING.

And J. and I are damned good parents, no matter what anybody wants to think. 

Meet L.

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17 Responses to The News Item I Can’t Shake

  1. Pingback: Obese Ohio Third Grader Placed in Foster Care

  2. Pingback: A Fat-Head Proposal for Dealing With Childhood Obesity | etee2k[DOT]new

  3. Pingback: Vindicated | Red, Round, or Green

  4. Here’s some happy news to balance out this unrealistic and unhealthy approach – In Massachusetts, the Mass Farmers Markets coalition is working on programs that would educate and assist these families, rather than punish them for overweight children. There is a pilot program in some of our poorest cities to give “veggie prescriptions” to youth when they go to the doctor, which they can fill at farmers markets for an extra daily serving of veggies for their entire family. AND they’re also working with increasing numbers of farmers markets to double EBT money for families who spend it at farmers markets. The education and community involvement piece is out there, it just doesn’t get as much press as this sensationalist crap.

    • Thanks for posting this and reminding everyone that there IS great stuff happening out there! I love that double EBT money program — RI had it for a while as well, and I think it’s really invaluable.

  5. Laurie says:

    I think there is a huge difference between what you are describing & obese.
    Ignorance & a lack of resources contribute to childhood obesity.
    It is sad and abhorrent to see a child who is not able to make his
    own nutritional decisions be allowed to become obese.
    Removing them from their home does seem drastic, but I believe this is definitely a form of child abuse
    Parents need to be assisted & educated for anything to change.
    One thing is for certain……something HAS to change.

    • I think you’re right, Laurie — there IS a huge difference between my kid and a kid who is “obese.” However, the number of pounds is not what concerns me. It’s the ideology behind this.
      If ignorance and a lack of resources contribute to childhood obesity — and I agree with you there — then shouldn’t we be working diligently on correcting the ignorance and the lack of resources, not punishing the people who lack them? Also, ignorance and lack of resources are only two of many, many contributing factors. As to children not being able to make their own nutritional decisions, the argument falls apart when we’re talking about pre-teens and teens, because those kids are often making many food choices outside the home that their parents may not even be aware of. What to do then? Is it the parent’s fault that the kid is eating the candy the teachers are doling out for good behavior; that they’re eating the school cafeteria food because they’re on subsidized lunch; that they’re accepting the Hostess snack packs given out at the after-school program while their parents are at work; that they’re going to the pizza parlor with their friends on Friday night because it was “on the way home” from the football game? What about that?
      I agree with you that SOMETHING has to change. As to whether it rises to the level of CHILD ABUSE, I cannot agree. I’ve seen real child abuse. Kids locked in cages. Children molested by various caregivers. Kids so emotionally scarred they were rendered clinically mute. The study authors make a parallel between overfeeding your kid and smoking in your house, and I think maybe that’s more the level we’re at. If you’re not going to remove the children of smokers or alcoholics for exposing their kids to dangers, then don’t talk to me about removing them to make them skinnier.
      Thanks for reading and commenting. Please continue to share your views!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Your child is adorable. I’m wondering whether you’ve considered switching pediatricians. My child is very petite in height, so always out of proportion on the height/weight charts as being heavier than recommended for her size. To look at her, though, she is in no way “overweight”. My pediatrician has never even commented on her weight because it would be nonsensical. I question the judgment of a pediatrician who makes you feel ashamed for having a child who, even if a few lbs overweight, does not appear to have a serious weight problem.

    • Thanks, Anonymous! It’s always in the pool of possibilities, the switching of doctors, and I guess at this point I’m waiting for our next appointment to decide. I have a few things that I want to articulate to her that I don’t think I have yet, and if she accepts those things and responds to them in a way that satisfies me, then we’ll see…but if not, then we’ll likely switch.
      I think that’s the issue, isn’t it? This idea of what’s good sense and what’s not, when we’re talking about a kid’s weight. Especially at such young ages, when there is a lot of variation, a lot of growth spurts to be had, and yes, the reality of actual “baby fat’ that some kids cling to longer than others. That’s something that the study authors didn’t address, either — I know they were talking about morbid obesity, not a few extra pounds, but they claim in the original paper that “traditional” weight-loss methods don’t tend to work very well with kids. I wonder if that’s because kids’ bodies (and minds, and emotions) need to mature and go through different cycles?

  7. Kim B. says:

    THAT is the “overweight” kid you’ve been talking about? Are you kidding!? First, he’s adorable! And second, he looks *healthy* to me!! Hugs.

    • Haha…yes, that’s my “overweight” child! That’s what I’m talking about, I guess…a kid who is solid and strong and looks quite acceptable, weight-wise, and there’s such a fuss made over what the scale says versus what the eye says. Thanks for the support, Kim, as always.

  8. Your son is beautiful…and you are an amazing parent. He is lucky to have you!

  9. Donna says:

    He is gorgeous, and you are doing an amazing job. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for what you have accomplished!

  10. Blanca says:

    I saw the post this morning from TLT. Immediately I thought the exact same things you mention. Absurd to break up loving families because someone thinks the child is overweight. Government has no business getting involved in parenting. They’re only going to do more harm than good. As you mention, are we to expect that they will be raised with better eating habits under their system? Better nurture than that of the child’s family? Morals, ethics, etc?
    Your gorgeous boy looks perfectly normal. An innocent little boy that needs not to worry about weight.
    Very well put together. Great article, as always!

    • Thanks so much for the feedback! I read the full study this morning — it’s available now, for a limited time — and really, there are so many issues they are not acknowledging/addressing from my point of view.

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