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Thursday, December 1, 2011

When Big Is Not Better

     Except for the economy, everything in America is getting bigger. Men, women, and children are getting heavier every day, and require larger toilets, seat-belt extentions, bigger furniture, oversized theater seats, wider revolving doors, scales that go beyond 300, and even wide-body caskets. The U. S. government has gotten as fat and unhealthy as the American people, and seems unable to trim itself or its citizens. (On Tuesday the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid announced that Medicare will pay for obesity screening and intensive behavioral counseling. People old enough for Medicare ought to know how to lose weight. If they don't, it's probably too late.)

The Case of the Boy Who Got Too Fat

     In October, Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Children and Family Service workers took an 8-year-old Cleveland Heights boy from his mother because the child weighed 200 pounds. A judge approved the seizure on grounds the mother's inability to get her son's weight down amounted to medical neglect. County workers were alerted to the boy's excessive weight early last year after his mother took him to an emergency room with breathing problems. Doctors diagnosed the child as suffering from sleep apnea and issued the family a breathing machine. After working with the boy's mother for twenty months, the agency placed the grossly overweight boy into foster care. (According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, children in foster care in five states are taking psychotropic drugs at a rate "two to over four times higher" than childen who are not in foster homes.)

     The attorney representing the distraught mother told reporters on November 28 that the foster mother was having trouble keeping up with all of the boy's medical and governmental appointments. As a result, the county has assigned a social worker to help the foster mom. A few days later, the boy's real mother, an elementary school teacher, publicly stated that she had done her best to limit her son's access to food. She didn't want her boy to be obese and sick, and did not feel his condition was a result of neglect or bad parenting.

     The government's removal of this child from his home has set off a national debate over governmental authority and discretion versus parental rights. The weight of public opinion seems to be with the mother. Perhaps that's because two million children in this country are extremely obese. Moreover, it's hard enough keeping kids away from cigarettes, drugs, pornography, pedophiles and alcohol. Controling their eating habits, particularly in a glutinous culture of junk food and soft drinks, is easier said than done.

     This fat little boy from Cleveland Heights is a real person and a sad story. But to me, his case stands as a metaphor for what is wrong in this country. The govenment is too big, and so are its people.  

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