An Ohio boy has been returned to his mother’s care more than five months after he was placed in foster care by county officials who said his mother wasn’t doing enough to control his weight, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
In November, the 9-year-old weighed 218 pounds. After spending months in foster care with an uncle, the boy’s weight dropped to 166 pounds.
The boy was returned to his mother in early March under protective supervision, the newspaper reported. The decision made Thursday by Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Judge David Stucki released the family from that supervision.
The case became a flashpoint for the controversy of whether obese children should be removed from their parents’ care, a move typically reserved for children who have been physically abused, neglected or undernourished. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12.5 million children and teens are obese.
In a controversial article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2011, Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity expert at Children’s Hospital Boston, said government removal is probably not appropriate for most children, but in a few cases may be the best solution.
“State intervention may serve the best interests of many children with life-threatening obesity, comprising the only realistic way to control harmful behaviors,” Ludwig said in the editorial, which he co-wrote with Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health.
“In severe instances of childhood obesity, removal from the home may be justifiable, from a legal standpoint because of imminent health risks and the parents’ chronic failure to address medical problems,” the authors wrote.
Dr. Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said removing a child from his home is not a desirable solution, but in this case, it appears to have succeeded.
“When you remove a child, no one wins. But it should not have come to this,” Ayoob told ABC News. “What this removal did was disprove any claims that the child couldn’t lose weight. He could, he did, and his mother needs to be motivated to keep it that way.”
According to the Plain Dealer, the boy first came to officials’ attention in March 2010 when he was diagnosed with sleep apnea, which can be weight-related. His mother agreed to place him in a program called “Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight” at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland. The boy lost a few pounds, but began to gain some of it back. At that point, the Department of Children and Family Services asked a juvenile court for custody of the boy, saying his extreme overweight was a form of medical neglect.
The boy’s mother, who was not identified, disputed the county’s charges that her son’s weight was the result of her unwillingness to follow doctors’ orders.
“They are trying to make it seem like I am unfit, like I don’t love my child,” she told the Plain Dealer in November. “Of course I want him to lose weight. It’s a lifestyle change, and they are trying to make it seem like I am not embracing that. It is very hard, but I am trying.”
Dr. Sumana Narasimhan, co-director of the Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight program, said patients in the program get a combination of medical and psychological evaluation and diet and exercise counseling to help families make the necessary lifestyle changes to improve a child’s health.
She said isolated cases of children being removed from their families should not deter parents from seeking help with their child’s weight.
“A lot of parents worry that if their child is obese, that means we’re going to take them away. That is absolutely not true,” she said.
Lawyers involved in the boy’s case told the newspaper that the boy has been doing well despite the upheaval, is exercising regularly and has been monitored by a Big Brother.
The county is offering nutritional and health counseling services to the boy’s mother and will continue to monitor him.
The Plain Dealer reports that if the county doesn’t feel the boy is being properly cared for after 90 days, they will go back to court.