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Obesity: Enforce Law With a Little Compassion

Graduated NYU 1963. Worked in NYC in public relations 2 years then as reporter/news editor 32 years at The Hour newspapers. Retired in 2000.

Obesity: A Growing Problem

Example of obsity

Trying to Cope with Obesity

Christina and her mother, Marlene Corrigan

Christina and her mother, Marlene Corrigan

Lost Her Struggle With Obesity

Christina Corrigan

Christina Corrigan

A California mother faced serious criminal charges recently after her 680-pound, 13-year-old daughter died "on a filthy bed sheet, surrounded by empty food cartons, feces in the folds of her body."

Prosecutors charged the mother with misdemeanor child abuse -- and she was convicted -- but she had been threatened with even more serious charges.

Once again "the system" resorted to the age-old tactic often employed by the weak and ineffectual. When things go wrong, blame the victim!

Or, if that's not possible, blame somebody else -- anybody else!

Certainly prosecutors have an obligation to determine whether there is any criminal liability in such cases, but, in this case, where's their compassion?

Overwhelmed by Circumstances

Why do we wait for a young girl in her circumstances to die of heart failure before taking interest in her plight, and in her mother's heartache?

The girl's mother obviously was overwhelmed by her circumstances and, no doubt, had no clue as to where she might have obtained some help.

Taking care of a child under such circumstances is no easy task. Even qualified physicians may not have been able to help this young girl attain an acceptable weight. It is likely the girl's obesity was not a simple question of overeating.

Herculean Task

Cutting off her food supply -- the reaction of some people -- would have aggravated the situation, not improved it.

The condition she was found in was sad, indeed. But ask any nurse about the difficulty in caring for such patients. For a mother, on her own, the task -- both physically and psychologically -- was Herculean.

There's no doubt that many mothers in this country face similar circumstances, i.e., children with a wide range of mental or physical deficiencies. When conditions are severe, there may be some organizations that can provide assistance; but, often, there is nowhere for a mother to turn for help.

Fat people, old people and a wide range of ailing individuals often have difficulties that are not commonly recognized -- largely because such difficulties are easy for the rest of us to ignore.

For instance, the elderly -- especially those with no one to help out on a regular basis -- are plagued with "little" problems such as trying to open childproof medicine caps or coping with income tax returns.

Many Fall Through the Cracks

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A few good-hearted people and organizations, like the Salvation Army, senior citizen groups or hospices, offer some assistance, but too many needy people fall through the cracks.

What's needed is a greater concern by all of us for those in society who are fighting lonely battles. There are lots of people suffering a whole array of problems and, often, they have no idea of where they might get help.

Why can't our private or governmental agencies look into such potential problems before tragedy brings them to light?

Is anybody listening?

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Jan. 24, 1998. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages.

The Weight of the Nation: Poverty and Obesity


William F Torpey (author) from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on April 02, 2016:

Morbid obesity, Jacob, is a very complex matter. I'm certain that no qualified physician would entertain the notion of cutting off the food supply of any morbidly obese patient. This mother was not "psychotic." She was simply overwhelmed by a medical condition she did not understand. There is no easy solution to this condition -- and, unless you're financially comfortable -- it's not a simple matter finding help (even from relatively much less from social or medical agencies.)

Jacob on April 02, 2016:

"Cutting off her food supply -- the reaction of some people -- would have aggravated the situation, not improved it."

Would you mind explaining this absurd statement?

She DIED, and might I add, in the most repulsive manner possible. How on earth could being enabled and fed copious amounts of garbage junk food by this psychotic mother possible have been the better alternative?

William F Torpey (author) from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on January 30, 2010:

Your mom loves you, heys, and that's why she makes you tamales and feeds you. I'm sure she just doesn't know what else to do when you demand more ... and more ... food. Trying to "eat the most I can" and saying, "I don't care" is solid evidence that you don't really in your heart want to be 490 pounds (Who would?) You could make your mother very happy by asking her to seek the aid of a good doctor and/or your local Health Department. Even though your mother obviously doesn't know what to do for you, she cares... and I care. Don't give up. Life is too short as it is.

heys on January 30, 2010:

why do people make such a big deal?

o wow a fat girl died, its normal people die.

I'm 15 and weigh 490 pounds so wat. It's my choice to be obese if I die from my heart I don't care, in fact I try to eat the most I can everyday, and my mom accepts he makes me tamales and feeds me until I can no longer eat.

William F Torpey (author) from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on February 24, 2009:

I appreciate your comment, eswar, but I wonder: Have you been to McDonald's lately? Millions put good diet aside every day while loading themselves down with hamburgers, french fries and milkshakes. Of course parents are responsible for their children's upbringing and diet, but I have to ask: How are they doing? Many parents can't even take care of themselves. How can you expect them to provide a healthy diet for their young ones? Your childhood obesity hub contains lots of good advice, but at the same time you acknowledge that obesity is more complicated than just a poor diet or overeating. Genes, hormones and psychological problems also frequently play a role in childhood obesity, as you point out, and these difficulties can overwhelm virtually anyone. Knowing how to find social and governmental agencies that might help also is not that easy for many mothers. To put all the blame on the mother is the simple solution to a complex problem. Simple solutions are rarely the best solutions.

eswar from India on February 24, 2009:

Yes, of course the mother is to be blamed in this case, because its the duty of the mother to guide the child to good path, you just cannot restrict yourself to some fields alone its in every aspect of life you need parenting to be carried out correctly., if she has taken some more care and also taught the child from her childhood itself she may not be facing it now, Many of us fail to understand or refuse to accept the significance of the term "childhood obesity", but when we do realise that it becomes too late.

Parenting is not so easy and it does not end in a corner, where we can relax its a journey as long we live, it is our responsibility as parents to advice our children and teach them what is the right way to eat, not just by telling them that they should not eat junk food, but by giving example, children do a learn a lot by watching their parents in every aspect so when we want to teach them something good it is our duty to carry it out ourselves first. If you want them to be healthy and have the habit of eating healthy nutrient food, you need to eat and give healthy food at your house.

check with my hub on chilhood obesity also.

William its a good topic, and well narrated.

ColdWarBaby on May 11, 2008:

Too true. Your welcome.

William F Torpey (author) from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on May 11, 2008:

It's clear to me, ColdWarBaby. Things are seldom as they appear on the surface. Thanks for commenting.

ColdWarBaby on May 11, 2008:

What are you all possibly thinking? The LAW is the LAW! You cannot expect it to be administered on a case-by-case basis. There can be NO exceptions! Unless, of course, you are extremely wealthy.

Think of all the time and effort it would take. All the circumstances would have to be considered through exhaustive impartial investigation and huge amounts of time would be wasted checking a bunch of insignificant and inconvenient facts. We need to crank these offenders through the system and get them behind corporate owned bars so that taxpayers can foot the bill for our privatized prison system.

We are talking about PROFIT here and anyone with an ounce of sense knows that NOTHING ELSE MATTERS!

Stop questioning the Market. It is the rising tide that lifts all ships! It is the invisible hand that makes everything right for everyone. It is the will of god (read money). Those who question the righteous word of the Corporate Person shall forever be condemned to poverty and servitude. Only those who serve the Master without question shall be granted human status. All others shall be the lowest of creatures fit only to be slaves.

I hope ya’ll comprehend sarcasm.

William F Torpey (author) from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on May 11, 2008:

It certainly is a tragic case, Patty. The following site will answer many of your questions and, I hope, give you a more complete understanding of the difficulties involved in caring for a child like Christina:

trish1048 on May 10, 2008:

Has anything been reported about this woman's family?  Were there ANY relatives that could have stepped in and offered help?  What about a father?  My guess is he was long gone,,,, And, WHO was responsible for feeding this child?  The MOTHER!  You can't tell me that even if she was low income, that she couldn't have provided healthier meals, although, judging from the picture, she never learned how to eat healthy herself.  However, I'm sure she wasn't blind, and she could have called a hospital, a doctor, someone, and said, hey, how can I feed my daughter nutritious meals on a low income?  What about the welfare system? were they ever contacted?  Or DYFS?  If so, didn't they make house calls?  What about school?? I'm sure this poor girl couldn't go, didn't the school check into the situation?? 

And granted, if hers was a medical condition, I'm sure her mother was aware of that!  And, if so, at the time of diagnosis, I'm sure the professional told her what had to be done, and I would HOPE that the mother was truthful and said she couldn't afford treatment, if that was the issue.  If she was on a public assistance program, they provide medical care. 

As far as being charged with a misdemeanor, I think that was a bit too light. How can anyone say this mother was well-intentioned? They CAN'T. If that were my child, I'd be knocking on every door, standing on street corners if I had to, to get someone to listen and help. And personally, I do think what the mother did, or should I say, DIDN'T do, is CRIMINAL

And your comment 'For a mother, on her own, the task -- both physically and psychologically -- was Herculean', well, EXACTLY. That alone should have been the reason for her to GET HELP!

This story is just too tragic. There are just too many unknowns in this case for me to make a sound argument, but just from what I've read, this is what I've come up with.


William F Torpey (author) from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on May 01, 2008:

Even very intelligent, educated women can have difficulty mothering, compu-smart, Some women are not capable of caring properly for children, which makes the problem of teen pregnancy all the more tragic. The case illustrated here is sad, indeed, and I share your hope that someone will act as well as listen.

I admire your fortitude in quitting smoking, desert blondie. Personally, I finally overcame the many obstables to quitting smoking back around 1983 after nearly 40 years of puffing cigarettes. But countless others have not been found success. While I'd like to see them succeed, I would not criticize their inability to quit.

I agree, amy jane, mothers do have great influence -- and this mother came up short. But I agree with her lawyer, who said, "This is a case about fat prejudice ... a prejudice we don't even know we have."

The courts, desert blondie, by acquitting her on felony child abuse charges, took some recognition of the mother's plight. But, I believe, the conviction on misdemeanor child abuse charges can indeed be attributed to fat prejudice. The bedsores and unsanitary conditions that were found are certainly sad, and unfortunate, but I don't believe this was caused by any criminal act. Bedsores are not uncommon among bedridden persons, and when you're referring to someone weighing 680 pounds it's almost inevitable. I can't even imagine trying to roll over a bedridden 680 pound person, which would be required often to prevent bed sores. If society cared about such unfortunate circumstances -- as well as for people who need assistance because of illness, psychological problems, aging, etc. -- it would be doing far more to help than it is doing now. Charging people criminally instead of stepping up to the plate when help is needed is a cop-out.

desert blondie from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen on April 30, 2008:

Good point, Amy Jane, that no matter what the level of involvement or competency the mother would most likely not be charged with a thing in an anorexia case. BUT as the courts pointed was NOT the child's weight, it was the undeniable signs of neglect that prompted the charges. But a fascinating, if tragic, topic that's been brought up here.

amy jane from Connecticut on April 30, 2008:

This is so sad, to me, on all sides; for the mother, daughter and society on the whole. No one would blame a mother whose daughter died of a different type of eating disorder, like anorexia. Society and the media would be blamed. In either case, the mother has a huge influence, but probably not total control, especially if she lacking outside support.

Very interesting topic and hub...

Tony Sky from London UK on April 30, 2008:

Very sad indeed!!

Its crazy how you have to take a test to drive a car, ride a bike or operate machinery etc etc. but anyone can be a mother!!

I just Hope when people do listen they will act too!!

William F Torpey (author) from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on April 30, 2008:

Your comments are very interesting desert blondie and Froggy213. I will respond in detail later today (I've got commitments that will take up the whole day.)

Greg Boudonck from Returned to an Isla Del Sol - Puerto Rico Will Rise Strong on April 30, 2008:

Great Hub William--as a matter of fact,I am going to post this on our local newspaper's forum!

You are right-agencies of our government NEED to step up quicker and get the help for these people they need--I would like you to see this Mr Torpey and maybe you will understand why I am so,so adamant about this!

Not just children, but elderly too!

desert blondie from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen on April 29, 2008:

I'll be interessted to hear how others respond to your hub. I chose to quit smoking myself more than a decade ago. It was horrible. But every morning I looked in the mirror, while brushing my teeth, and said to I want my kids to think I'm an idiot? A total weaklling? And the answer was NO. This mother did not have to learn to "treat" a morbidly obese child, as you say. She CREATED a morbidly obese child. There's NO WAY that someone that young (13) who weighed that much!!! wasn't on that path, at her mother's control/weakness from that poor girl's earliest days. And, as you say, "society" most likely DID have resources available to that mother...she just never chose to discover what they were. I agree that preventative health care would be much less expensive for Americans in the long run...because the "average" low income mother would only let her child get so obese that the girl needed knee and hip replacements at an unusually young age. This girl was the victim of her mother, not society, not the nation's health care plans. this nation, while improvements can be majorly improved, DOES have the systems in place to have aided this mother. I can't imagine how isolated she and her daughter must have been to ultimately end with this girl's death. For that isolation, I do have compassion, but for the girl, not the mother.

William F Torpey (author) from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on April 29, 2008:

I appreciate your comments, desert blondie. This is a very complicated case, but the only thing different about it is the extraordinary weight. The average American is overweight, and a large number of Americas are morbidly obese. No one "should" weigh that much, but the pounds are not necessarily caused by the victim's "behavior." That kind of obesity probably involves a number of factors, including behavior, to some extent, but also medical conditions (perhaps glandular) and psychological issues. Just as smoking and drinking seem to be behavioral problems, many doctors acknowledge that alcoholism is an illness. The smoking/nicotine "habit" also can be an addiction -- ask anyone how difficult it is to quit smoking. Treating morbidly obese victims is far outside the ability of the average American mother, and if the mother is poorly educated and has very limited financial and familial resources, it's virtually impossible. Under these circumstances, society has some level of responsibility for providing minimal assistance. Universal single-payer health care would give us a good start.

desert blondie from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen on April 29, 2008:

I so honor your compassion. BUT, there's  no way that a 13 year old should weigh that much!! At that age, her mother is totally responsible for the behaviors that accumulted to this child's death. She killed this child...her child. I'm sorry to be so blunt...but you're a man...I've been the mother of two daughters, and a daughter myself. That child deserved the love of a disciplined mother...obviously this situation has been going on during this little girl's ENTIRE life. No other situation could have been occuring for a 13 year old to weigh this much. This mother literally was in charge of killing her daughter. Yes, Compassion. Compassion for the very small child who was trained to be a slave to food from her earliest days. My prayers for the girl. And although I have heartache for the mother who at some level is so unbelievably disturbed that her daughter could come to this...this mother's compassion will have to come from that one whose power is higher than a mortal's.

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