Before you say it, I know that headline sounds like something straight out of The National Enquirer. But unlike the supermarket tabloid which is known to ahem creatively embellish its stories, this sad tale is all too true. USA Today reports today that Jerri Gray, who lives in Travelers Rest, SC, could actually go to jail for criminal neglect because her son is morbidly obese. Alexander Draper, who is 14 and weighs 555 pounds, has already been placed in foster care. All I can say is OMG (because this is heartbreaking for oh so many reasons).
According to the article, Gray says she was trying to help her son lose weight but he was getting food from elsewhere. But it isn’t clear about when she noticed that this might be an issue. (In a way this sort of reminds me of those Maury episodes when there is a toddler weighing close to 100 pounds and the parent doesn’t see the problem yet.) However, there is so much more going on here than a young man who is hungry. I suspect there are some issues that we know nothing about that desperately need to be addressed. (And hopefully, Alexander is getting some serious counseling while he’s in foster care).
But what’s surprising is that South Carolina took this case this far legally. (Gray actually fled with her son when they tried to take him away initially.) And it seems they are not the only state. The article also mentions that six other states are grappling with this issue too. Two of them, California and Indiana, filed criminal charges against parents too but they weren’t sentenced to any jail time. While in New York an overweight young woman was ordered to take cooking classes and go to the gym by the judge (which is actually not a bad idea).
Here’s another thing that’s troubling to me, Gray didn’t comment in the article because she has given a film documentary company the exclusive rights to her story. I think it is more important to regain custody and get an effective program for her son in place. Oh but maybe that’s just me.
There’s no doubt that childhood obesity is a runaway train in danger of derailing future generations, but is holding parents accountability in this way the most effective plan? Frankly, I’m not so sure. It might work in those cases where the parent is overfeeding their children. But what about those who simply have no clue about nutrition? Or don’t have the money or resources to get fresh fruit and vegetables? We desperately need a plan that educates and also has an action component. However, what is also at issue is when we implement it. I say we might want to start some mandatory nutritional education for parents in under-served communities from birth. That way we can prevent some children from suffering the same fate as Alexander. Clearly, this young man has a challenging road ahead. It won’t be easy but the payoff—a better quality of life (and a longer one)—would well be worth it. I just hope he wants it as much as we want it for him.Read Also