A Cleveland third grader who weighed more than 200 pounds was taken from his mother after officials reportedly said she did not do enough to help the boy, who suffered from a weight-related health issue, to lose weight.
“They are trying to make it seem like I am unfit, like I don’t love my child,” the boy’s mother, who was not identified, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “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.”
Officials first became aware of the boy’s weight after his mother took him to the hospital last year while he was having breathing problems, the newspaper reported. The child was diagnosed with sleep apnea and began to be monitored by social workers while he was enrolled in a program called “Healthy Kids, Healthy Weight” at the Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.
The boy lost a few pounds, but recently began to gain some back, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported. At that point, the Department of Children and Family Services asked a juvenile court for custody of the boy, citing his soaring weight as a form of medical neglect, according to the newspaper.
Taking obese children from their families has become a topic of intense debate over the past year after one high-profile pediatric obesity expert made controversial comments in the Journal of the American Medical Association advocating the practice in acute cases.
“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,” Dr. David Ludwig co-wrote with Lindsey Murtagh, a lawyer and researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health.
A trial is set for the boy’s ninth birthday next month to determine whether his mother will regain custody.
But one family who has been in the same position as the Ohio family told ABC News they disagreed with the practice when “Good Morning America” spoke with them in January.
“Literally, it was two months of hell. It seemed like the longest two months of my life,” mother Adela Martinez said.
Her daughter, 3-year-old Anamarie Regino, weighing 90 pounds, was taken from her parents and placed into foster care a decade ago.
Anamarie didn’t improve at all in foster care, and she was returned to her parents. The young girl was later diagnosed with a genetic predisposition.
“They say it’s for the well-being of the child, but it did more damage than any money or therapy could ever to do to fix it,” Martinez said.
Anamarie Regino, who is now a teenager, agreed.
“It’s not right, what [Dr. Ludwig] is doing, because to get better you need to be with your family, instead of being surrounded by doctors,” she said.
When told of the Regino case, Ludwig said his solution of state intervention did not always work.
“Well, state intervention is no guarantee of a good outcome, but to do nothing is also not an answer,” he said.
ABC News’ Dan Harris and Mikaela Conley contributed to this report