What should the state do if a child’s weight becomes life threatening? Recently, South Carolina authorities dealt with just such a situation by arresting the mother of a 14-year-old boy who weighed 555 pounds, reported USA Today.

The mother, Jerri Gray, had fled the state with her son, Alexander Draper, after a hearing was scheduled to determine whether she was “medically negligent” in caring for her child. She was arrested in Baltimore, and her son was placed in protective custody once police returned the two to South Carolina.

With childhood obesity rates soaring, the case garnered national attention. Gray’s attorney, Grant Varner, said that if his client is found guilty of “criminal neglect,” it will set a precedent “that opens a Pandora’s box” in the area of child abuse.

Last year, a report by the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), a nationwide group devoted to the well-being of vulnerable American children, indicated that state courts in Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, New Mexico, Indiana and California fought to address the issue.

As a result, all of those state courts (except the one in California) expanded their legal definition of “medical neglect” to now include morbid obesity. They ruled that the children involved in these cases were victims of neglect.

And although the parents involved in these cases were not sentenced to jail time, the courts in California and Indiana did file criminal charges against them.

Linda Spears, vice president of policy and public affairs for the CWLA, said that she thinks criminal charges should be a last resort.

“I think I would draw the line at a place where there are serious health consequences for the child and efforts to work with the family have repeatedly failed,” Spears told USA Today.

Gray’s attorney said his client followed the nutritional guidelines the South Carolina Department of Social Services set for her son, but he ate fast food when he was unsupervised.

Varner indicated that while in school Gray’s son could eat whatever he wished. “The big question is: What is this kid doing when he’s not in Mom’s care, custody and control?” Varner asked.

Spears also indicated that most often health problems linked to childhood obesity do not become chronic conditions until a child reaches adulthood. This makes it difficult to charge parents with child abuse, she said.

But while state courts ponder the legal ramifications of childhood obesity, reports on the topic continue to cite the rising statistics.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said that the number of obese children ages 6 to 11 has more than doubled in the past 20 years.

Read more about the dangers of childhood obesity here.