Child Put in Foster Care When Parents Refused to Offer Junk Food

This is for the many parents of children who do not grow according to charts, and have been told over the years to feed formula instead of breastfeeding or to give a child cornflour, Bamba or other high-calorie, low-nutrient food so he will gain weight.

The Daily Mail reports on a child put into foster care because his parents refused to follow a doctor’s instructions to give the slow-gaining child crisps, chocolates, and cakes.

Zak is now putting on some weight, but his eating problems were not cured by his time in the care of ‘experts’ and, much to the annoyance of his parents, he has acquired a taste for junk food.

Mrs Hessey, of Bolsover, near Chesterfield, said: ‘I thought I was doing the right thing going to the best people for advice when Zak began to lose weight.

‘Instead they basically accused me of neglecting him and implied it was all my fault. I have four other children and they are perfectly healthy, it was just that Zak was refusing food for some reason. They said I should just feed Zak chocolate, cakes and junk food just to get calories into him. But I objected, saying that was only a short-term answer and not a proper solution.

‘The Government and doctors are always drumming into parents the importance of healthy eating – yet they were telling us to feed Zak all the wrong things.

‘That is obviously what they were doing when he was in foster care so now it is hard to get him to eat anything else.

Follow-up post: Toddlers and Weight Gain


  1. Tiger Mike says

    There has to be more to this story.

  2. I think foster care was certainly inappropriate and extreme (why they couldn’t have just assessed the home while the child was in it was incredibly stupid)

    On the other hand, toddler weight loss is a serious issue. It can affect brain and overall lifetime development. If it’s that extreme that he’s losing weight, then I agree with the dr.: Junk food and a supplemental vitamin are called for (though I don’t know why he didn’t urge the mom to just put him back on formula to make sure he was getting most of the necessary nutrients).

    I am all about healthy eating, but I am at the point where I’m happy when my son just eats calories, not necessarily that they’re always healthy (I try to make sure they’re healthy 80% of the time).

    It’s too bad she’s so rigid about healthy eating habits. It’s not just what you offer but also what you model, what you have in the home. Kids go through many eating stages and just because he eats junk food now doesn’t mean he won’t eat the healthy food she cooks at age 5 or 10.

    • “It’s too bad she’s so rigid about healthy eating habits. It’s not just what you offer but also what you model, what you have in the home. Kids go through many eating stages and just because he eats junk food now doesn’t mean he won’t eat the healthy food she cooks at age 5 or 10.”
      I’m surprised you’re defending the medical advice she received. The professionals retracted it and admitted that the mother was right. The junk food didn’t make much difference. He put on one pound.
      If a child is gaining slowly first find out if he is healthy. His weight might be normal for him. One of my children lost a little weight as a toddler. She had been born very big, and at around a year dropped off the charts in height and stayed that way through puberty. If the child does not seem to be doing well, check for underlying medical issues: anemia, cancer, food sensitivities(think celiac/allergies), digestive issues, sensory issues. Like she said, giving junk food is a short-term solution. Stuffing a child with high-calorie processed foods can have long-term health implications.
      Tiger, I’ll keep an eye out for more news on this story.

  3. MII, I would see your point about weight loss being normal if the child was eating a normal diet and losing weight just from increased activity or normal metabolism. But if the child is not taking in enough calories and losing weight, that is more serious. I’ve read studies that inadequate calorie intake at a young age does affect development in serious ways.

    And I think taking a very rigid line with that type of fussy eating in a toddler is the wrong way to go (eat this healthy food or nothing) because calories are important and they do need to eat.

    There are ways to make “healthy” junk food that are more palatable to fussy toddlers (my vegetable kugel, for example, or pumpkin brownies, zucchini, carrot or banana bread fortified with yogurt, flax seed, wheat germ, etc., whole wheat pancakes). I’m happy when Eli eats a mango yogurt for a snack. Yes,it has a lot of sugar, but it also has fruit and protein, which is good enough for me at this point. And if the only cheese he’ll eat is American cheese (which I’m doubtful as to how much actual cheese is in it), than that could be dinner or lunch with a few crackers.

    I don’t know what the mother did or didn’t try at home, but after my experience with my fussiest eater, I’ve learned that taking the “highway or my way” tactic, especially at such a young age, doesn’t help anyone.

    So I don’t necessarily think that junk food was called for, but I also don’t know that just because she was offering “healthy food” is enough of a reason not to question her feeding tactics.

  4. Abbi, I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one.
    Toddlers have small stomachs. The problem with junk foods is that they may displace the small amount of nutritious food the child ate before. It’s likely that the child will end up eating the same number of calories, but get less nutritional value. Even if the child gains weight (and you never know if that wouldn’t have happened without the “junk”) he is almost certainly getting less vitamins/minerals/protein/complex carbohydrates. And he is developing a taste for these foods, and theoretically increasing his risk of diabetes, obesity, etc.
    I agree that the effect is all a matter of degree, and rigidity can be harmful. But I don’t see a benefit to the child from eating these foods.

  5. Yes, I agree, toddlers have small stomachs. And eating nothing has even less nutritional value than junk food since it has absolutely no calories and no calories is dangerous for a growing body and brain. Believe me, I’ve left my son in front of a plate of chicken and rice, and he will simply go hours without eating instead of eating it. So is it better that he eat nothing so he won’t develop a taste for junk food? It seems like that’s the situation here, and for my son I’ve decided that no, it’s not preferable that he go without food just so he won’t develop bad habits.

    I’m not proposing that it’s preferable to eat junk food or that kids in general should just eat what they want just to get the calories. I am suggesting that, especially for kids who really refuse to eat, “healthy food” is a relative term.

  6. Abbi, offering a child a Mango Yogurt and American cheese, processed as they are is not the same as a DOCTOR suggesting “chocolate, cakes and junk food”. Some people don’t even bring that stuff into their homes. I’m shocked that a doctor would suggest that stuff.

    I’ve been through the toddler stage and I agree that fighting with them is not the answer. Most of these kids are not starving, their caloric needs are relatively small (i or two cups of formula or pediasure a day goes a long way until they start eating). If this is as extreme as it sounds, then MII is right, an underlying cause needs to be found (emotional issues? autism? allergies). Otherwise, offer the kids all the “fish” sticks and pizza bagels you can, but I wouldn’t go with chocolate and junk food.

  7. Kayza Zajac says

    I can’t believe that any experienced parent really goes for the idea that children who are exposed to junk food will develop a taste for it, and those who are not won’t. I have B”H six children, and I’ve tried to enforce the same healthy eating habits with all of them – but while one of them doesn’t like any sweets but chocolate, and loves vegetables, another one will eat any candy in the world except for chocolate, and pretty much refuses to eat anything green.

    Also, while I certainly agree that if a child is not eating, you need to find the underlying reason. On the other hand, what do you do UNTIL you find the reason? And, sometimes it’s just a matter of getting the kid over a stage. The same pediatrician who gave me very strong advice about what to fee my older children advised me to offer my youngest potato chips if that’s what it took to get him eating. His logic was simple – get him eating, then we can work on getting him to eat the right foods. Of course, it was not his first choice of foods to offer, and he also did a thorough checkup, but he felt strongly that in this case the conventional wisdom was not the best way to go. And, I see that he actually was right. In the end I didn’t offer him potato chips, but the process my pediatrician was hoping for actually came to pass, just with a different food. Once he found something he actually liked, he decided that eating was worth it, and that was the end of the problem.

    On the other hand, the social services people sound like total idiots. I mean, the kid was in the hospital two weeks, and there was clearly not a sharp turnaround, which there would have been if that had been the whole story.

  8. Kanya,
    I do believe that what I serve my children influences their future food preferences, although there are a lot of factors and no guarantees. Even if I am wrong, I still prefer to serve healthy food while their bodies are developing so rapidly.
    When phrased like that, your doctor’s advice seems logical in some situations–as a means, not a solution.

  9. sounds insane to me. If the child was in the hospital, the hospital should have been able to monitor his eating habits.

    Taking a child away from loving parents sounds insane in and of itself. The food thing seems equally freaky.

    I’ve heard of other kids who didn’t gain well at that age, and the parents were told to give high fat cheeses, meat, oil or dressing on vegetables, olives, things with actual food value.

  10. Kayza Zajac says

    MiI, I agree that what you feed children influences their food choices down the road, but that’s a far cry from the assumption (expressed by some) that if you don’t give the kid junk s/he is not going to have a taste for it. Most experts (including the ones who help people with weight loss) will tell you that we’re simply wired for this. So, our task as parents is to teach our children that they can make healthy, satisfying (on multiple counts) and tasty eating choices by giving them that kind of food, to the best of our ability. And if course, serving healthful food rather than junk at any age is a good idea, even if you don’t get them to love.

    I do agree that the advice my pediatrician gave me was not something I would advise parents – and neither would my pediatrician. In fact, he’s quite savvy about nutrition, and this advice would NEVER be his first line. Nor did anyone think of it as a long term solution. But then again, I’m not sure that the doctor’s original suggestion was intended to be a long term solution, either. Of course, given how stupid everyone was being about it, though, it’s really hard to tell what was really going on.

  11. Kayza Zajac says

    triLcat, I agree with you that the hospital should have been able to figure out what was going on during the two weeks of hospitalization. I would bet that one of the reasons that the courts acted so quickly (relatively speaking) in favor of the parents, and social services were forced to change their tune was this exactly.

  12. We went to the birthday party of a slow gaining two year old yesterday – he did not even eat the cupcake – so offering junkfood is not a “cure” either. My 1 year old on the other hand will eat anything & everything.

  13. Amy, of course offering junk is not a cure. Aspirin is rarely a “cure” for anything, either, but sometimes it’s useful anyway. Sometimes short term symptomatic treatment is necessary. I would certainly hope that no one would ever think of offering junk as anything more than that!

  14. I have a picky 2-year-old who gives me much grief, since he only wants to eat chips. But after enough psychological prepping, he will eventually eat brussels sprouts, chicken, or carrots, etc… I find he prefers to have Papa feed him. (Maybe it’s because he still breastfeeds, he sees me as only his milk supply and resents me giving him other foods?) Anyway, since he’s a normal weight, I don’t have to worry about the government taking him away from me if I refuse to give him any more chips! I feel badly for these parents who had their child taken away. That’s crazy.

    I disagree with whomever said that you can’t lose your taste for junk food. After a few years of eating well, I really don’t crave processed foods anymore. Put a bag of sunchips and a bowl of stirfry in front of me, and I’ll go for the stirfry. I do like sweets, but in smaller quantities than I used to crave.
    Just discovered your blog. I like it! Thanks for being here!