An Appleton, Wis., couple faces charges of felony child neglect after authorities say they intentionally starved their infant daughter because they feared she would become obese.
According to the Associated Press, prosecutors allege the girl weighed nearly eight pounds when she was born in July 2010 and in 14 months, gained only five pounds.
The girl’s parents, Christopher and Mary Sultze, were each charged with one count of neglect. They each face up to a year in prison and a $25,000 fine if convicted. They were released on bond, but ordered to stay away from the daughter they are accused of starving. Mary Sultze, 36, previously pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery for biting another daughter on the arm after the girl bit her older sister.
Prosecutors also allege that the parents were frustrated by doctors who expressed concern over the baby’s weight, insisting they fed her enough. Doctors convinced the Sultzes to admit their daughter to a hospital in August and in one day, the baby gained eight ounces. Tests revealed the infant had no medical issues that could be causing an inability to gain weight.
Christopher Sultze, 35, was worried the baby would get fat in the hospital and said he didn’t want obese children. He later told a doctor and a social worker that his family follows a low cholesterol diet, and he had surgery to treat a blocked artery when he was just 25 years old.
Dr. Eugene Hershorin, chief of the division of general pediatrics at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, said a child who is only 13 pounds at 14 months of age is suffering from “very significant failure to thrive.” He is not involved in the Sultze case.
“On average, a baby should double its weight by six months and triple it by a year. That’s the normal amount of weight a baby should gain,” he said.
Proper nutrition in the first year of life, he explained, is critical to a child’s development, since that’s the time when brain growth is at its peak. An infant’s diet should consist of a lot of calories and fat to help the brain develop.
“Nutritional deprivation can alter development, including neurologic development and body growth,” Hershorin added. If there is any damage to the developing organs, it can possibly be reversed by getting proper nutrition later, but in many cases, injuries to the brain cannot be reversed later on.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, he continued, says a child’s diet should not be modified in the first two to three years of life, even if there are concerns about weight.
Christopher Sultze’s attorney wouldn’t comment on the case, but the attorney for Mary Sultze, Brandt Swardenski, told the AP there are “serious reservations about whether there’s any criminal activity here or just misguided parenting intentions.”