S.C. case looks on child obesity as child abuse. But is it?

July 21, 2009
by Ron Barnett
USA Today

Jerri Gray was doing all she could to help her son lose weight, her attorney says. But something had gone terribly wrong for the boy to hit the 555-pound mark by age 14.

Authorities in South Carolina say that what went wrong was Gray's care and feeding of her son, Alexander Draper. Gray, 49, of Travelers Rest, S.C., was arrested in June and charged with criminal neglect. Alexander is now in foster care.

The case has attracted national attention. With childhood obesity on the rise across the USA, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gray's attorney says it could open the door to more criminal action against parents whose children have become dangerously overweight.

States have been taking steps to combat childhood obesity, according to a report released this month by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

For example, 20 states have passed requirements for schools to do body mass index (BMI) screenings or other weight-related tests of children and adolescents, up from four states five years ago, says the report, title "F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America."

But it also says that, although every state requires physical education in schools, the requirements "are often limited, not enforced, or do not meet adequate quality standards."

The same report says 30% of children in 30 states ages 10 to 17 are overweight or obese, with the rate hitting a high of 44.4% in Mississippi.

The CDC says the number of obese children ages 6 to 11 more than doubled in the past 20 years, while the rate for adolescents more than tripled.

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