Should Mom of 555-Pound Boy be Charged with Neglect?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Most parents only want to do the right thing and give their children a happy life. But when a child becomes overweight, or even obese, are they no longer doing the right thing? If not, should something be done? A mother in South Carolina has been charged with neglect (and put in jail) for allowing her 14-year old son, Alexander, to reach a dangerous weight of 555 pounds.

Officials say they have given Jerri Gray the chance to help her son and get him treatment, but she has not taken advantage of those opportunities. She says she doesn't have enough money for treatment. Jerri works multiple jobs to make ends meet, and says she doesn't have as much time as she'd like to prepare healthy meals for her son. She also says that sometimes she'd purchase fast food for him when she had to sleep between shifts.

Alex is now in the custody of the Department of Social Services. Jerri admits she's made mistakes. But she wants her son back, and the opportunity for them to learn together how to change their lives and get healthy. Should she be given that chance when her child's life is at risk because of his weight?

This story is heartbreaking to me for a number of reasons. I'm fortunate that I have the knowledge and tools to know what my children should and shouldn't be eating. I'm fortunate that I don't have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, taking me away from them on a daily basis. But not everyone is so lucky. If you grew up in a home where fast food and high fat meals were the norm, you probably didn't learn anything different. It's easy to see how someone could get into a situation where they think they are taking good care of their child, but in reality their choices are doing more harm than good.

On the other hand, this child is not just 50 or even 100 pounds overweight. Alex's weight has reached a level that is very dangerous to his health. It's not clear exactly what officials did months ago to try and help Jerri before the situation reached this point. Was she given access to help? Was she given any tools to start changing his eating habits? Did she just choose not to follow through with it?

In my opinion, a 14-year old child needs his mother. Taking him away from the woman who loves and cares for him is not the solution. The solution is an intensive intervention with the two of them, giving them the education and resources they need to start turning things around. If someone is going to change their lifestyle, they need to learn how to establish new habits and behaviors. If they are given all of this and the mother still refuses to follow through, then I think that's a different story and more drastic measures need to be taken. But for now, I think they should be given the opportunity to change- together.

What do you think?

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I agree with the child being taken away since she was given a chance to change things and didn't Report
I agree with the last paragraph of the article. Under normal circumstances, no child should be taken away from their mother. The article also stated that the mother was given prior chances, but the article didn't state specifically what she was told to do. If they really wanted to help the mother and child, a program for both mother and child to learn good nutritional eating happens would have been a good ideas. It has been while since this was first posted, I just wonder how the child and mother is doing. Did they get the help they needed to help him loose the weight and be a normal child again. Report
I agree that the kid is better off away from his mom. Article says she had prior chanc3s & blew it. Many comments sbout healthy food costs, education about health, etc but Portion Size matters as does exercise. Letting the kid lay around & watch TV or play video games while growing to 500+ lbs tells me something is wrong at home. Sexual or mental or physical abuse, alcohol or drugs or mental illness Report
It's been 10 years since this was posted. I wonder how son and mother are doing now. Report
It’s a sad situation Report
Of course her son should be taken away, with a child being extremely obese it would always be the family's fault, money is not the problem, most fruits & vegetables are cheap. For example I buy apples .99 a pound, bananas 65 cents pound etc. every week. Report
This is extremely sad. I feel that BOTH the mom and son need nutrition as well as other forms of counseling based on what is going on. Report
I believes she loves her son and will do right by him this time. She should be given another chance. Report
"It's not clear exactly what officials did months ago to try and help Jerri before the situation reached this point. Was she given access to help? Was she given any tools to start changing his eating habits? Did she just choose not to follow through with it?"

"Officials" do not have the legal right interfere until the child's health/life is threatened. It is a truth that the mother was responsible for the child's well-being. It is an excuse to blame Child Protection Services for not getting involved sooner. What would have changed if they had? The mother refused to cooperate with them making excuses of her own.

There was a point in my children's lives where we had very little to live on. I did not waste what money we had on prepared food. Saying one cannot afford to eat healthy reveals ignorance. For the cost of one Fast Food meal, one can purchase enough vegetables for a week of meals. The problem isn't the cost of food; it is more that the mother was not raising her child. The child was left to raise itself and did not have the maturity or the education to do so.

The article did not mention that the mother was jailed for contempt of court. She refused to following the health instructions of the counselors as the court ordered her. The mother was given the opportunity to correct the issue threatening the child's health and life. She avoided it. The mother was too involved in herself to give proper care to her child.
This is a very sad story and I don't feel that any of us here has the right to make a judgement on this mother that no one knows or even knows the real situation especially with the fact that we are here because of our own weight problems .
I wush them well at being a happy and healthy family. Report
How about we use the money we would spend on incarcerating the mother, and use it so she can support herself and her son and be around for him. It makes no sense to separate this family. First, he should receive an extensive medical examination (mom too) Then, they both should receive nutrition counseling, meal planning education and nutrition assistance. However, in this country, we tend to view poor people as inferior and having brought their circumstances upon themselves. He did not gain all that weight instantly, and it won't come off instantly either, but instead of punishing the family, how about we help them? Report
Hm. Well, if the mom is going to be charged, we also ought start thinking about SOCIETY'S role in this. She didn't get there alone. It would be awesome if our food product companies would just do 'the better thing' and start making their foods in healthy ways, and leave out the ingredients meant to draw us back to unhealthy product again and again.
I know that I've always felt STARVING after eating foods made from white flour, you never feel satisfied. So maybe that was one of the problems also.
A situation THIS bad, calls for hospitalization type care. Something with full supervision until the boy gets to a safe weight zone, and then lessen it over time. Families should never be broken up, if possible. Education is key, but SUPERVISION would be needed as well, because we all know how easy it is to slip back in to the bad habits. Report
Under these circumstances, yes, this is neglect. As someone who is obese due to binge eating and poor food choices, that is still more than double what I weigh, and it is THREE TIMES what a normal person weighs. It would take a concentrated form of neglect of oneself and one's child to allow THAT much weight to pack on. We're not talking about someone who's just pretty fat- we're talking about someone who is almost three times normal cultural standards, and as a culture, we're already severely unhealthy!

This kind of weight can only be done by encouraging and endorsing absolutely outlandish, dare I say, cartoonish eating behavior. You can get up to maybe 300 lbs with a junk-foody diet alone and some occasional binges. Beyond that we're talking about gross negligence of any kind of idea of self control and deep, deep excuse-making. You can eat a very good, extremely low fat diet for very cheap, as recommended in books such as The China Study. The poorest people in rural China have some of the best diets for health and weight, and they eat mostly simple carbs and vegetables. Whenever I see someone over 300 lbs saying they can't afford food, I'm always like-- no, you're full of crap. What you can't afford is to keep eating the amount of food three people should be eating. If you're REALLY poor, you'd stop eating all that food. You'd ration and portion it to save your pocket book; if they cut all their normal food in half they'd still have enough of a portion of what they're currently eating to be 225 lbs. That's not exactly lightweight. Blaming the economics here is f***ed up.

Anyone who can afford 6000 calories per day of bad food, can convert that money into 2000 calories of GOOD food. Easily. Report
I really don't understand why vegetables, fruit and whole nutritional food is so expensive compared to chemically altered foods that are processed. Perhaps it mass production that makes the difference. Anyway it is a shame that people cannot afford nutritionally fit food at any economic tier. The mother should not be charged , but should be educated along with her child. I too am amazed that no one tried to intervene or offer assistance. A terrible, potentially tragic story has unfolded. Report
Weight loss, I have come to believe, is a science. Not everyone has the right information. Getting diagnosed as a diabetic recently made me have to learn how the metabolism actually works, and why it is crucial not to eat junk foods, sugars, or even fruit sometimes. My grandfather, whom I never met, I recently learned, weighed about 500 lbs. So it is in the genes too. Mom obviously doesn't know or understand. It costs a lot of money to engage in a weight loss program. Once in Florida I needed to go to a food pantry for awhile because I was laid off and it was all white white white... mostly bread. What is affordable to poor people is white stuff, not the lean cuts of meat or nice fresh vegetables many of us might take for granted. Now I am doing well financially again, but I'll never forget the peek I got into the world of poverty, underinsuance, and so on. Obesity is classified as a disease, but even so, to cure this boy will take a complete program with constant help and vigilance on the part of the mother who is already tapped physically, emotionally and financially. Still, this is something the boy and his mother should learn through and work through together, because at 11 he is fully able to make his own food, make his own decisions based on some pretty strict rules. I think he can do it. And I think she can help him with love, thereness and strength.

(And a slow cooker helps!!) Report
Such a sad situation. I am guessing the mother didn't have proper eating habits when she grew up. I'm for teaching her and her son how to eat properly and they learn together. It isn't good to separate the family. Report
I am stunned that no one -not the school, his family or his pediatrician intervened. I was raised by a single mother and I know that it is cheaper to buy canned spaghetti or hamburger than to buy fresh produce for 3 growing kids on a very tight budget. While I recognize that the mother has a responsibility to ensure her child's wellbeing I do not believe that she willingly endangered him but was trying her best. I live in South Carolina and it seems unfortunately that being overweight and obese is almost considered the "norm. Our school lunches (even at the elementary level) are not great (pizza, nuggets, ect) and I choose to pack my child's lunch to try to get some whole grains and fruits in. I hope that they can keep this family together but with strong supervision and regulary check ups. Report
It's hard to afford to eat healthy, especially if you aren't in a place (or have the time) to grow your own food. Processed foods are cheaper than produce and fresh meats. I don't agree that taking the boy away will fix anything. It's punitive and pointless. They need education and resources. If the state is truly concerned about the welfare of the boy, provide the family with a counselor to teach them how to eat and give them support, and help the mom figure out how to afford the healthier options. By taking him away, it's only a temporary solution. Teach them, and the outcome will last longer. Report
I disagree, because the mother has already said that she is hardly ever there. So he needs to be placed with a foster family, where she can visit when she has the time. If her situation should improve, then maybe she can get custody further down the road. Right now, no way! She's not there. Report
I, too, agree with the author. Punishment never works. If Social Services really wants to be 'social', they should provide mother and son with a coach to teach them what 'healthy' is (apparently, no one has bothered to teach them while they were younger) and supply the food bank and/or school cafeteria they probably use with fresh and healthy foods. Report
I agree with the author. She and the child will learn together how easy it really is to eat right given the tools they need. It's just sad that the mother has to work so hard to make ends meet. The child has not learned how to cook, or prepare his own healthy meals. This is something they can work on together. Report
I agree with the author. My daughter was almost 400. She had to grow up and decide to do something herself. Anything I tried to do was refused. Report
Unfortunately a lot is going on here. Is the mother overweight? Is her family background one of low income? Does she "really" care about her son's weight or is it lip service to get him back? At 14 he is clearly able to feed himself, but she is probably supply a large portion of what he has available and another reality is FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES COST A LOT MORE THAN PASTA AND STARCHY HIGH CALORIE FARE. And for someone who was raised on fat laden food and junk- Its what one eats.
Yes- its the mother's fault and if she truly has disregarded the facts of her son's health then taking him away was justified, but also harsh. You cannot expect someone to care about things they were simply not raised to care about and call it discrimination if you will, but statistically the lower the income and education, the worse the diet and higher the rate of obesity... And education? That's going to be a hard one. A lot easier to KNOW in your head that macaroni and cheese isn't healthy and causes weight gain, but another to feel it or care about it in your mouth and belly and pick up an apple. I grew up really poor (but made it to a masters degree and upper middle clas where being overweight was frowned upon socially), and while I have never been obese or even more than 20lbs overweight, it took high blood pressure and heart failure for ME to actually pick up that apple. Report
Nanny state come to mind but something needs to be done. Who learn anything being locked up.

This is the difference from when I grew up in the 50's. No fast food and I spend my days out playing outside with friends and burning off the calories.

No, she should not be locked up but given more help Report
I agree with some of the comments. I wonder where the old man is in this - did he just take off one day or is he still in the picture? If he is he needed to step up to the plate LONG AGO. I feel sorry for the Mom if it's true that she is working that much she is clearly burning the candle at both ends (if NOT more). I cannot fathom how hard it is already for her and then to take her kid away. If the gov't was SO concerned for their welfare, perhaps helping her so she does not have to work multiple jobs rather than jail time would be better- I have to wonder how many job offers she will get when she leaves prison with a record. Say what you like but I don't see any winners from this situation. Report
Yes the first teacher in a child's life is his parents, and that should include how to eat properly to get all the nutrients you need and not to become overweight. The responsibility is always the parents, when they turn legal age is a different story, but if the children are fed junk in the early years how do they know how to eat healthier in their later years. And as we all know it is easy to put weight on but not so easy to take it off Report
I am LIVID when I see extremely overweight children. I'm not talking about chunky, chubby, or that layer of fat kids get before they shoot up in height, btw, I'm talking about morbidly obese. It's absolutely inexcusable and is totally the fault of the parents. That said, I don't know what's going on in this case, and would have to know much more about them before deciding if it warrants removal from the home. If so, then why wait till the child is so old and the problem so extreme? Report
Separating a child from someone who loves him and who he relies on is counterproductive. Does the family need help? Yes, of course, but the money wasted on incarcerating the mother could be put to better use. It seems that this family is suffering from the stresses of poverty. This woman is working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. One of the biggest determinants of health is socio-economic status. A living wage would do wonders for this family. It's far too easy for the judgemental middle-class to tell people who are down on their luck how to live. If you haven't walked a mile in her shoes, I doubt you have any idea of what she is dealing with on a daily basis. Report
My 17yo daughter is autistic and takes Risperdal, which is known to increase appetite. Last summer, just as she turned 16, we started her on
the pill to regulate her periods. She is now about 40-50lbs too heavy. As I see it, with those two medications, she doesn't stand much chance of being a normal weight. She is active and doesn't eat a lot of junk. Report
First... Justina Pelletier - Treated for Mitchondrial Disease until Child Services took her away from her parents. because another hospital said that her symptoms are all in her head. They stopped her treatments, took her away from her parents, and now her health is deteriorating.

Sarah Murnaghan - A ten year who needed a lung was denied by (FEDERAL) HHS Director, Kathleen Sebelius. PA judge later gave it to her and she is alive.

There is such a long list of government abuses...these are just a few. Why is anyone surprised? Report
Another thought here: many prescription medications have fast, excessive weight gain--not clearly connected to a change in eating habits--as a major side effect. I read an article recently about certain antidepressants and ADHD medications, commonly prescribed for children and teenagers, causing major problems in this and other areas. While I'm sure there are many choices the family could have/should have been making here in regards to healthy food and exercise, etc, I just have a hunch that there are other factors involved here besides overeating and emotional problems. I wouldn't be surprised at all if there are prescription medications (perhaps BECAUSE of emotional problems) wreaking some serious havoc on this boy's biology, and all the other interventions in the world are only going to go so far while his system is messed up with the meds. Of course, I don't know for a fact that there's a connection in his case, but I would really want to rule out that possibility, since it certainly could be a major contributing factor. Report
My prays go the this mom and her child.

Those bully punish givers should be thinking on ways to help and solve problems. Report
I really think that if we used up a lot less energy criminalizing things and spent it extending ourselves to actually helping folks with whatever their needs are we might see much better results. Seems like we have lost sight of some old fashioned things like compassion and caring about our neighbors. Seems easier to use the machinery of government and the law to make things even worse.
Just my thought. I would rather someone start helping both of them and changing things for the better.
I agree with Meredith. The child must have an eating disorder, or some other health issue. When t would putting the mother in jail accomplish? It would be another child in the foster parent system, and frankly, most people would not want the added responsibility. Report
I have a family member that in my opinion is over weight. Although his mother is similar, short and over weight, I think that the poor eating habits that have been introduced and allowed, are major contributors. Report
I just watched the documentary "A Place at the Table". It really shed a lot of light on the close relationship between childhood obesity and access to nutritious food. I don't know this mom's circumstances but it's FAR more complicated than just choosing the right things to eat. Processed food is everywhere, fresh fruits and vegetables aren't always easy to get or economically possible for many, many American families. I too will be sending positive energy to this mom and her son. Report
The government should never be involved, period....The junk they allow in our food, aspartame, high fructose corn syrup probably should be considered neglect by our Health Department if you want to charge somebody.....They know this stuff kills people and they are neglecting this crap and allow people to consume...don't get me started......NO the woman should not be charged with neglect......obviously she was around.....wrong word dummies... Report
This is interesting. The so-called childhood obesity "epidemic" has taken on a personality that is very unlike the overweight that many of us experienced when we were children. There is such a combination of factors that goes into this type of weight gain, but I really think that the majority of us could have eaten everything that this child has been eating and still not have arrived at 550 pounds by age 14. I find it strange that no one is asking the question: BIOLOGICALLY, what is wrong with this child? SCIENTIFICALLY, what has HAPPENED to our food that it is attacking people like this? EDUCATIONALLY, where are we as a society that Nutrition and Physical Fitness (outside of sports teams which aren't for everyone) are sometimes not required or not actually taught in schools? I DO think the mom has neglected the education and health of her child. However, I don't think that she is alone and we as a society need to ask ourselves, what are the real issues here? Is it that the kid is fat? Or is it that we have allowed so much junk into our lives to the absolute exclusion of healthy living? Do we even know what healthy living is at this point? Or do we only know extremes? I have so much to say, but I have so much to do and can't stay here commenting forever. These are my questions for now. Report
This breaks my heart. I also can't help but think there is more to the story. I was a single Mom with two children and had to work long hours and more than one job. I battled my weight and am now a personal trainer and know a whole lot more about nutrition, looking back I know I didn't feed my children what they should have been eating. Luckily they did play sports and didn't have to battle weight as children although they do struggle now. Personally I'd rather donate time and or money to this mother and son than see them torn apart. I didn't have the money, time or education when raising my children but I loved them more than life itself, I can't imagine having them taken away from me and I hate the thought of it for this family. Report
Maybe if she were a healthy weight and living a healthful lifestyle while forcing her son to eat fast food this would be a criminal case. To me it's like people who hoard compulsively. They have a serious problem and their family can get so overwhelmed with the issues and the sheer amount of stuff that it seems like nothing will ever fix it. There's so much work that needs to be done that it seems pointless to even start. These people need help and education, not punishment. Report
I think the son may have Prader-Willi Syndrome. It's an eating disorder where a person has no sense of satiety and can eat themselves to death. Report
So much judgement here. It doesn't sound like dad is in the picture. I think if we are going to judge, maybe we should be looking for the male role model who isn't playing sports with him, who isn't monitoring him while mom is working two jobs. Unfortunately, in a lot of these cases when they are younger the mother spoils them, feeling bad that they don't have a father (you see this a lot in grandparents raising their children). It just gets out of control. But, once the mother recognizes the problem, there is little she can do. The child will freakout on her. He's 550 pounds, so it stands to reason he's also larger than her. He can refuse to eat what she buys. She will then not want him to starve and buy him what he shouldn't have. I'm not saying that is what is happening here, but I have seen that pattern before. We also don't know what role genetics plays here. Report
Mother should be arrested for attempted manslaughter, son needs to go into a fat camp for two years. Report
There is many questions that need to be address before everyone makes assumptions about what should happen to this family. 1. Where the father or other families members in this situation? 2. What opportunities were given to the family to help her son and were they affordable for them to take advantage of? 3. Was the family offered any ways of funding to help them live a healthier lifestyle? 4. Did the person/s that recommended the opportunities try to look at the mom's schedule to try and fit them into her schedule so she could take advantage of them while still working multiple jobs? 5. Is there an underlying medical condition that may have caused some of this weight gain? 6. Where were family friends, teachers, school counsellors, etc during all this? Like someone mentioned below someone said this can't just happen overnight and why did no intervene prior to the son reaching 550 lbs?

The definition of neglect is "Fail to care for properly" so yes I do I believe that the mother should be charged with neglect but I do not believe jail is the right answer. The should look at the situation and see what oppurnties that they can do for the mother like community service. Ideally the mother should have custody of her son but I feel that they should have supervisor. The should have access to food and fitness counselling to help them live a healthy lifestyle together.They should also have the son medically examined to see if there is any underlying medical situation that may have not helped this situation. They should also see if there is any medical conditions (diabetes, high cholesterol) that should be looked now while implementing there new lifestyle changes. Some funding should be able provided to the family to overcome this situation.

I know what it is like growing up with a single parent and how it can be a lot easier to grab something on the go compared to cooking something.I also know what it is like for a single mother to work multiple jobs and how that can affect a family.I know that has effected my eating habits as an adults. This is something that should be looked at programs implemented to help out future generations. I feel for this family and I hope them the best to overcome this situation. Report
I have a number of questions.
1 - Where is the father in all of this? Are there other family members around to help?
2 - Exactly what type of "opportunities" has the state provided? Were there options that could be done around her work schedule?
3 - Were they actually helping or just tellling her to go read online articles/books?
4 - Are they providing any emotional sipport to both the son and the mother? Or do they just make them both feel worse than they probably already do?
5 - Are they providing any financial support to help make the transition to healthy living because it isn't inexpensive (but then neither is fast food).
6 - Is she a good mother in other areas? Being a mom is hard work and it is even harder when you are working multiple jobs just to make enough money for the necessities.

FYI - Someone should give this to the guy who does the Extreme Weight Loss program. He comes in and really works with the people, plus they get financial support from different companies to help purchase the stuff needed to have a healthy lifestyle. Report
Any kid can be overweight, but you have to be PAYING for and putting a LOT of food in front of your kid for them to hit that weight. If she is working to make ends meet, she could just cut way down on the amount of food purchased, even if they still eat out at every meal, this would help with bills and weight loss. Honestly, kids do not truly understand how to take care of weight on their own. You see so many overweight or dangerously underweight teenagers. Their parents must take responsibility for helping them. I understand the emotional connection this kid needs with his mom, but, will he live long enough to graduate high school? Maybe he'll make it to his early 20's then die. This is serious and so many people work full time (me) are single parents (me) are overweight themselves (me) are horrible cooks (me) do not understand nutrition and serving sizes (me) are not physically active (me) are frequent fast food eaters (me) yet my kids are not 200, 300, 400 or more overweight. There is obviously an emotional component to this kids eating he needs counseling! It is very possible that neglect is exactly what's been happening. He could be overeating from emotional neglect and some time away from home may help him see his life as something he needs to take responsibility for since his mom is NO help. Report
I agree with AMAZINGLILSUSHI sounds like he mother had a lot on her plate trying to make ends meet.My question is where is the father in all of this ?
I would speak to the son & see what kind of mother she is otherwise. If he loves her & she's done the best she can in other areas & is willing to accept affordable help & change her ways then I feel that more helpful to her & her son.I think if all our lives were made as public as being obese shows outwardly we might all have things we were far from proud of , but would & maybe have done better with time.
I understand what the person was saying referring to the heroin, but the mother may not have been brought up in a loving educated household herself. Maybe she thought that as long as she was feeding him & putting a roof over his head she was showing him a mothers care. Then when he was becoming obese she wasn't sure how to make him eat less. Maybe she asked him to & he hid snacks from school, etc.but she was putting in so many hours she was too tired to truly address it because she was working hard trying to put a roof over his head.
Of course, maybe not, but I think we should know the whole story before we burn her at the stake.This is just my take on it.I respect others right to their views. Report
I grew up in a home like that. Fast, cheap food almost all the time. I ended up being very overweight. But, there is a big difference between my 180 at 16 and 550 at 14. This isn't "Have a happy meal" this is "Have as many Big Macs as you want".

So it wasn't about not having the money, because eat enough fast food to get that big is not cheap. It's not a single $1 double cheese burger for dinner. It's much, much more than that.

This is definitly neglect, and she should be charged. Kid needs to be put in a stable environment where he can be re-taught how to eat properly. I imagine he already has some really bad habits set in, and they need to be broken before he is an adult. Report
550 pounds isn't just "overweight". She should be charged with neglect. As far as not judging people go, would you be as righteous if the child was allowed to use heroin in the mothers household with her permission? Report
In my opinion, jail is definitely the place for the mom!

She was killing her child.