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NY Daily News: A 555-pound teenager in South Carolina is at the center of the latest legal case to consider whether child obesity is a form of child abuse.

Alexander Draper, 14, was placed into foster care after his mother, Jerri Gray, was arrested and charged with criminal neglect in June. The state’s Department of Social Services sought custody of the boy because of information from health care providers that he was at risk of serious harm because his mother was not meeting his medical needs, department counsel Virginia Williamson told USA Today.

But Gray’s lawyer says finding his client guilty could open a Pandora’s box of charges against parents whose children have become dangerously overweight.

“This is not a case of a mother force-feeding a child,” Grant Varner told USA Today. “If she had been holding him down and force-feeding him, sure, I can understand. But she doesn’t have the means to do it. She doesn’t have the money to buy the food to do it.”

Gray followed the guidelines set for her son’s care by the Department of Social Services, but Alexander had most likely been eating whatever he wanted when he was at school, or at home while his mother worked the late-night shift at her job, Varner added.

“The big question is: What is this kid doing when he’s not in Mom’s care, custody and control?”

Gray’s case has gained national attention as the latest in which parents of obese children are accused of neglect and endangerment. State courts in Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, New Mexico, Indiana and California have examined the issue, reports USA Today, citing a 2008 report published by the Child Welfare League of America.

Such cases are difficult to prosecute because most state laws require a child’s health be in imminent danger for criminal charges to be filed, University of Virginia law professor Richard Balnave told the paper. Obesity, while dangerous, is not considered an imminent threat, he says.

So far, all of the states to hear such cases, except California, ended up expanding their state’s legal definition of medical neglect to include morbid obesity. Criminal charges were filed only in the California and Indiana cases, but none of the parents were sentenced to jail time.

In the 2007 New York case, an adolescent girl who weighed 261 pounds was ordered to attend nutritional counseling, gym workouts and cooking classes.

According to one report cited by USA Today, 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.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/health/2009/07/22/2009-07-22_is_obesity_child_abuse_court_to_decide_if_sc_mom_jerri_gray_neglected_555pound_1.html#ixzz1BjsmEImn