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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When was the last time YOU were in the classroom? I graduated from high school two years ago, and I was never taught about healthy living, not once! My high school still serves pizza for breakfast and lunch and counts it as a "vegetable". To be clear, I live in a middle class area with a highly recommended school district. Just because you might know of a school that teaches good health habits does not mean that everyone is getting the same treatment in other parts of the country. Report
Not sure how current this is but my thoughtsays she should be charged with abuse. Don't know about working 2-3 jobs or any of that but, in this day and age, it is almost impossible not to know the dangers of eating too much fast food, etc. and getting little/no exercise. Hopefully things have gotten better for both of them so they can reunite and be a family. One can only hope. Report
I am not in the mothers shoes and don't know about their life. This story was in 2009 I would like to see an update on how and what they have been doing. Report
yes the mother should be removed from caring for the child. She had been offered intervention and help but never followed up on it. Since 550 lbs is a death sentence for the child if not corrected she is basically committing murder. If she had asked for help she could receive section 8 housing, food stamps, and welfare so she didn't have to work all these jobs. She is making excuses. Report
I think it's really hard for people to make the right choices when we're surrounded by unhealthy food. People aren't taught how to cook healthy food at home or in school and everywhere you look there is unhealthy convenience food. Every time I want to buy a snack on the go my options are chocolate, chips, candy and soda. I have to be really disciplined to avoid eating the bad stuff. The supermarkets are full of unhealthy frozen meals too. I think people should be taught cooking in school so they can be equipped to look after their families and themselves when they grow up. Report
First, fast food isn't cheaper than buying healthy foods and keeping them at home.

Second, this kid was doing more than just living on fast food. When I was single many years ago, I had fast food at least 2 meals a day. (This would go on for weeks at a time) I did not gain a single pound. It was not remotely healthy, nor would I promote doing it. I probably got NO nutritional value from anything I ate at that time. I just wasn't over eating. I wasn't eating a super sized meal, I was getting something very small and then being done with eating.

This is a form of child abuse. To me, it is like smoking. I'm not saying that someone might not know the entire list of dangers of smoking, but you have to know that inhaling smoke into your lungs isn't healthy. I would think that with all the news reports that come out, ANYONE would know fast food isn't healthy. I am not saying she knew HOW bad, but she had to know it wasn't good!

On days when we need to have fast food as a family, we make the healthiest possible choices.

My nearly 2 year old is the reason I realized I needed to control what I was eating, so that she didn't start eating a lot of junk. I wanted her to love fruits and veggies. AND SHE DOES! Report
We do not know how people cope. Too often we only see how "we" would have done it and how the other person simply did differently. Hating, being angry or pointing blame at this situation does not help the child or the mother. Rehabilitation is key. We all have our silent struggles. Too many people like to pinpoint what's wrong but too few offer the support needed. I hope this mom learns exactly what needs to be done to resolve the issue and the child to be in better health. Report
I think she should get a grip on her kids eating habits and enroll him in some dietary counceling of some sort. she should be face some sort of punishment but not jail time Report
Everyone says "provide counseling" and "teach nutrition". The mother said she COULD NOT AFFORD the foods the counselors recommended. This was a very poor household, a single mom working multiple jobs. Unfortunately the inexpensive food in our country is usually the most fattening food. Even the WIC program pushes milk and cheese and butter - fatty and fattening. Did the "helpers" get her food stamps? seek a retraining program to increase her earning power so she could work a little less and be home to cook and supervise her son's meals and snacks? He was fourteen - making a lot of his own choices. Report
This is a really sad case. Both the mom and son were failed in many ways by the system that is now bent on punishing them both. Yes, there should be ways to proctect the son, but what we really need is resources for parents. Maybe she asked for help and the ways things work, you have to be in dire straits before anything happens. As this child's weight increased where was the school, counselors, relatives, friends, social services, etc? 550 lbs is not something that you put on overnight , over a few weeks or months --it would take years. Jail is not the answer; the "nanny" state creates its own set of problems. This mom needs support and her kid needs his mother. Report
What would jail time do for the both of them? Sorry but I have issues with the govenment local or wise Medling as they do now. What about Nutriotional education for the mom and her son. What about exercise counseling for the both of them? What about intervention of some kind other than jail time. Listen folks all those who agree that this is write then expect the gov etc. to come in your house and tell you what else they want you to do or force you to do. This country is becoming more like a police state. What is ok for one state will be gone on the other states. I saw in a articule where a certain company which I will not name was next to firing those who are over weight or forcing them to join a wellness class. I ask when will the kind of control End. This does not surprise me much...But does make me angry. Yes this child was over weight to the max but has lost weight. What they need is help in every area of there life NOT JAIL! Report
What would jail time do for the both of them? Sorry but I have issues with the govenment local or wise Medling as they do now. What about Nutriotional education for the mom and her son. What about exercise counseling for the both of them? What about intervention of some kind other than jail time. Listen folks all those who agree that this is write then expect the gov etc. to come in your house and tell you what else they want you to do or force you to do. This country is becoming more like a police state. What is ok for one state will be gone on the other states. I saw in a articule where a certain company which I will not name was next to firing those who are over weight or forcing them to join a wellness class. I ask when will the kind of control End. This does not surprise me much...But does make me angry. Yes this child was over weight to the max but has lost weight. What they need is help in every area of there life NOT JAIL! Report
I have been evolved with cases like this before and i agree that mom shouldn't be in jail but she also shouldn't have custody of her son. Report
So sad....I can't imagine a mother letting her child gain that much weight! There are so many things that she could have/should have done to prevent it. I guess it's easier to make excuses than to do the right thing. Report
How could a parent let there child gain that much weight? Report
You know ... I was fortunate enough to grow up in a house where my mom gave me sweets like fruit snacks, fruit, etc. all the time ... NOT sugar and things like that. It wasn't until I was 8/9 that my aunt was allowed to buy me my first slurpee. I still grew to be 180 lbs. overweight eventually, despite my great upbringing.

However, when a child (15 is still a child) is 250-300 lbs. overweight ... Something needs to happen. Should she be charged? No. But there should be some serious oversight of the family. Others have made comments about how if this was drugs, or liquor, etc. people would have stepped in already. It's the same general idea. The child's welfare is at risk.

The social workers should ahve someone come in and help as much as they can. Help get him moving. Help train him to think differently about food. They need to do the same for his mother - counsel her on how to pick good foods that will provide for him and help him lose weight. Report
The "I don't have enough money for healthy food" always gets me when it is followed by: "Yes, I buy him fast food." So, you have no money to buy a few pounds of apples for $6.00 for the week but you have the money for a $8.00 fast food meal. Having said that, no I don't think she should be charged. I don't think she willingly hurt her child and her childs is old enough to make some choices on his own. I am a single mom and have worked a lot of hours in the past. I find that making lunches at home is more nutritious and cheaper than having the kids buy it at school. And it takes 2 minutes to make. By now he is old enough to make his own lunch! Get him some education in the format of a Bigger Loser or a retreat. As a taxpayer I am more than happy to help flip the bill if it saves a life. Get the mother some mandatory education. "I have no time" doesn't cut it. She HAS to ATTEND. Give her the tools for herself and teach her what she needs to do to support her son. Make it very clear to her that if she doesn't comply she will not have a relationship with her son. He either will feel unloved and unsupported by his mother or he will be dead. Make her earn him back with some good decisions. If we recognize food as an addiction, she should be treated just like any other addict who neglects her child. Report
In a word ~ "yes" she should be charged. Report
The children are rebelling over the changes made to the food system for many reasons. One of the reasons is that they're not feeding the kids enough to support an active lifestyle. While they might be feeding them enough to sit on their tushes, those that have athletics after school are not getting enough. My daughter goes to work out for 2 1/2 hours this evening. Is a tiny lunch enough to support her 2 1/2 hour workout? I don't think so.

The other reason is that the mass-produced food is not tasty in many schools, even though it might be healthy. Healthy doesn't mean that the food has to taste like cardboard. Report
Food is a huge part of society,her son is getting older and making food choices on his own.
It is possible for her to change the situation by finding ways to better her work and home life. She could take classes on nutrition or at least research online. Perhaps take classes to expand on her job so she could spend more time at home and make more money. In other words, there is always a solution even if it isn't easy.
I am hoping there is no other factors, like verbal, physical or sexual abuse going on that could have intensified the situation(not necessarily by her). If not, she should be able to get custody back,that is, if she shows that she is applying herself to make necessary changes.
Being a parent isn't easy, even if you think you have it all figured out, there is something that comes up that makes you question yourself on what to do. Report
I saw an article where a child under the age of two was removed from his mother due to severe obesity. Later it was found the child had a rare genetic disorder and the mother was not at fault at all! This mother and child lost out on crucial time together. We do not know all the facts from this one article. It is so easy to judge and scream abuse. Could it be? Maybe. But I myself will restrain from casting a stone Report
It's not just her fault because somewhere along the line, his pediatrician should have stepped in, but she IS responsible for the food she brings into the house and should never have allowed it to get to that point. It didn't happen over night. For those who say a 14 yr old can make his own food, etc...that's true BUT again this didn't happen when he was just 14, or 13 or 12...
We are responsible for our children's health and now this kid is a prime candidate for heart disease and strokes, etc. His emotional and social health have all been affected, too. Report
MY question is why is the mother working "several jobs" to make ends meet? Where is the father of the boy? If he is absent, why isn't he making child support payments? Why can't the mother get financial assistance from the State like so many low income single parents do when the other parent is a non-payer? I do not advocate living on public assistance, but it can be a "hand-up" and not a hand-out in some circumstances.

My next concern is how could she not see what was happening with her son's weight? And how is it that nothing was done until he weighed 550 pounds? Didn't he have a pediatrician? What about the school nurse? Or his teachers?? While I do not think that she should be in jail, I do feel that her son needs to receive help she is either unable or unwilling to seek for him. In a situation where health is a concern, a rational, loving parent would cancel cable t.v. or some other non-essential to be able to pay for their child's medical concerns. We did and our children didn't suffer from it. Report
I have to agree that there's something more going on underneath this story then simply caloric overload and inactivity...this boy is crying out for help and attention. I can only imagine, given the innate cruelty of adolescents towards someone who does not fit in to their perceived norms (after all, weren't a lot of us victims of that bullying?), what he's going through on a day-to-day basis. It sounds like his Mom is struggling just to keep their heads above water- for many, that's not easy, even with only one job to have to contend with. It's a complex situation, and will probably need a multilayered support system for both of them to be of lasting help. I hope it works out.

Best, Christine Report
"Taking him away from the woman who loves and cares for him is not the solution." I am a school principal. I see parents everyday that CLAIM to love and care for their children. Sadly they allow their children to be rude, disrespectful and mean. They fail to teach their child any discipline. They fail to show their children that hard work is the key to success and happiness. It doesn't matter if it is academic health, mental health or physical health, some tough love and positive discipline is the BEST thing a parent can give a child!! Report
I feel the entire public population is partially to blame for allowing this to happen. He should have encountered teacher, counselors, couches and many people in his 14 years that should have intervened. I feel sorry for the boy and his mother who both need help! She must have her own issues that need to be addressed to allow this to happen and I would bet she is obese as well and may not recognize how heavy her son has become.

All we can do is look around and see if we can assist our family and friends with the same problems! Everyone has a role in this situation. It takes a village! Report
I don't believe the mother was being malicious by letting her son get that big. I wonder if this mother is big herself. How was the mother raised, was it just getting fast food on the run, or did she sit down and have a meal together with her family. Could it be that the mother though that she was feeding her child she could? If she worked 3 jobs, she was probably exhausted and thought easy and fast food is better than no food at all.

Does things need to change? Absolutely. I do think its a matter of teaching the whole family about eating healthy.

When I was going to college, we had a community service project that we went into a middle school and taught families what were healthy food and what was unhealthy. We also taught them about exercising. I was surprised on how many families were uneducated on food and exercising. I guess I took that for granted that every one knows these things. Report
I don't believe that jail is the answer. At 14 years of age, the boy is able to eat what he wants regardless of what his mother wants him to eat. Counseling and nutritional classes seem like a more reasonable idea. They both need help and it should have been given to them many pounds ago. Social Services is already involved, so why did they wait so long to step in? Are they making progress with the boy's weight and life style now that they are in charge of his life? Jailing an overworked mother just does not seem like a good answer to anything. If she had been given the resources equal to the costs of jail time for her and foster care for the boy, I bet she could have been successful (as long as the boy cooperated.) Report
This is very sad. I honestly believe the mother needs some therapy. It's not a question of needing education alone. Now that the boy (almost a young man) has been raised like this for his 14 years, he'll need therapy and education, too. There's hope for both. Report
If this mother were injecting her son with heroine, would you feel the same way? In essence, the situation came to such an extreme, it is the equivalent to the impact of injecting him with heroine. Tough situation but breaking the co-dependency is key in getting the kid help. Report
A fourteen year old is capable of making meals etc for himself. Nobody gets to a weight of over 500lb by accident. His weight is so high that his life is in immediate danger, so I would think that being separated from his mother for a while is neccessary. He urgently needs medical care and education. His mother needs help as well. If he can be helped to reach a healthy weight range she needs help changing her habits as well and monitoring once he is well enough if he chooses to return to her. Report
That much weight is a medical issue. The kid should be hospitalized and monitored. He may have an issue with his pituitary gland. Since Mum can't afford it, maybe social services will address this. Sometimes intervention is needed. If it is medical, Mum deserves an apology and to have the charges dropped. Report
not many people can reach 555 lbs, even trying as hard as possible. i don't think it's his mom's fault. keep mom & son together. Report
Take them BOTH away to a retreat or camp, etc so they can still bond and learn together! But YES it's her fault and YES it's abuse to both of them! I bet she's not a tiny woman. Sad sad sad story....but soooooo common now. Even people who think they're fat pets are funny and cute...grrrrr....I would remove the tvs, computers, and smartphones first. Report
I think if we send parents with anger management problems to treatment and then give them their kids back we should at least explore every avenue of treatment for this Mom and her son. Assign her the help she and her family need and monitor them throughout this process. Should she continue to enable her son's obesity from there, then seek criminal charges and take the boy from the home. Report
I dont believe any parent fails on purpose. Sometimes we don't have the tools we need. Lets send up our positive energy in support of this momma and her bear cub-- we can do this!!!!! We're all learning how to get better and do better. We need the support. Report
Well, I can just see it before me that the mother will be judged by an overweight judge, and the boy's health problems will be reported by an overweight doctor, and that overweight social workers are involved in this case.
What I mean is that if it were so simple to prevent yourself or your loved ones from getting obese, society wouldn't be plagued with obesity.
I agree that a lot of help and intervention and encouragement would be the best thing, However I don't think society is able to offer the support that is really needed for the Jerri's and Alexanders in this world. I wish them and all the others who are struggling the best. Report
It is a very sad case and something had to be done. I think jailing the Mom was not the answer. It would have been better to make them attend compulsory education on the subject. Report
This is child endangerment, clear and simple. Like people sentenced to do community service, she should be forced to take nutrition classes with the child. Yes, the child needs his mother, but if she were beating him, would you say the same thing? I'm glad to hear he is on his way to good health. He is somehow getting the education he needs to lead a healthy life. Report
I don't know when the last time you where in the schools, but healthy habits and nutrition are taught in the classroom. In fact the school lunch system has been changed dramatically over the last few years. The sad thing is, the children are rebelling over it! Check out the latest news reports. True healthy eating choices and an ACTIVE LIFESTYLE needs to start at home. In this instance I am sure there are other issues going on with this young man. I hope he (and his mom) get the help they need.
Be Healthy and Happy All!
It is truly sad that more isn't taught in our schools or even parenting classes on nutrition. Where was everyone when the young man was weighing 200 lbs. I believe that when most people are taught the how's and why's of a good decision they would make them. This will make me think everytime I make a food decision for my grandchildren and myself. Report
Guessing mom is now twiggy. Just like court mandated drug counseling and treatment, I think mom AND son need court mandated nutrition/fitness/wellness counseling. A case worker has already been assigned to the family, a wellness coordinator should work in tandem to create a healthy environment for the family. THAT would be mom's last chance, IMHO. The proof lies in the choices she makes one she is educated on truly doing better. If she fails in that attempt within a reasonable amount of time, she is a clear and present danger to her child and should lose custody permanently. Report
12 yrs old 550 plus pounds? Sorry, I have seen a multitude of people who are poor and do not gain that kind of weight. The fact that Family Services have offered help and that she has not taken it, shows lack of proactivity. By the time the boy is nearing 20 he will end up with many illnesses if he isn't already at the brink now. This is not caring or loving your child. The problem has been on going since he was a toddler, perhaps as an infant. I believe the child should not be returned to her until he has lost the weight. Report
It's hard to judge without being in this woman's shoes. That said, fast food is not that cheap and to buy enough to sustain the calorie count that it must of took to keep his weight that high would have been financially difficult for many people. Some meals are easy to cook and don't take much time and tossing food into a crockpot and letting it cook on low all day would provide a nutrious meal at little cost for several meals. It's good that he has lost alot of weight and I hope the mother gets help learning how to better help her son. Hopefully she has the will to continue on with any help she receives. It's easy to go back to old habits. I feel for them. Report
I don't think prison is the answer either, but removing the child from the home on a temp basis may give the mom and son a chance to think about making better choices. No clear answer without the facts though. Report
I am obese, and my children are obese. I've taken them to nutritionists and changed the food in the house. I've taken them to gyms and encouraged them to get more active, and it has helped. That said, I can't imagine either one of my children reaching his weight without having an intervention and probably a breakdown. His weight gain didn't happen overnight, but it will affect him the rest of his life. I think the removal from the home is unusual, but appropriate in this case. His mother isn't making the proper choices in this situation, so it's in his best interests to be removed, until she is willing to take personal responsibility for helping improve his health. I grew up in a single family home and work long hours, so I can relate to not being home a lot. But, there are small changes she can make. She could take daily walks with him, remove sedentary activities from the home, encourage him to drink water, and keep bags of apples, pears and frozen vegetagles for snacks. These kinds of changes would send the message that she values his health, and they are not expensive. Bottom line, I hope they both get the resources to improve their health. Report
We should not judge. I know that we don't know what was and is going on in this lady's head. Pray for her and the son also Report
This story made me very could a person allow their child to become this overweight...? I'm sorry but I don't buy for one second this woman needs "Education"...what she's done is child abuse, plain and simple.

It would be interesting to know what weight she is your commentary said, this isn't a child who is mildly overweight this is a kid that would shock 99.99% of the people in my country if we saw him...

555 pounds??!!?!?

This woman has neglected her son - there is no doubt about it.

This kid is going to have to lose at least 400 pounds to be a normal size...think about's truly shocking to me...
Law reform and social justice. Where is the father in all this? The father has a responsibility also. Maybe if he was in the picture, the mother would not have to work outside of the home so often, and there could be a more stable environment for the son. Too often fathers are given a pass in support. If the laws backed up personal responsibility more often, families would suffer less, and there could be more opportunities for better choices. Report
I think he shouldn't have been taken away from Mom, unless she actually did not take their help previously. Report