SWEETS and treats are off the menu for little Olivia Tomlinson because of a cruel genetic disorder which makes her obsessed with food – but needing only half the calories of an average child.
The four-year-old has Prader-Willi Syndrome which means if she was left to her own devices she wouldn’t be able to stop eating. The syndrome is doubly cruel because it also causes low muscle tone which means she is allowed only half the amount of calories most children should consume in a day.
The battle to keep Olivia at a regular weight is tough for parents Karry and Richard, from Grenoside, who have to keep her on a strict diet to ensure she doesn’t end up obese.
Olivia was finally diagnosed with the syndrome in April after years of uncertainty for her parents.
It means she will never be able to lead a fully independent life – because if allowed to, she would eat to the point where it affected her health.
Now Richard, aged 40, is due to walk the distance of four marathons in four days next month to raise money for the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association, a charity which supports people with the condition and their families and carers.
Karry, 35, said: “It’s a condition that often goes unrecognised – we slipped through the net for four years and I know of other families in the same boat.
“Often people see someone who is overweight and jump to conclusions that they’re greedy and lazy – when syndromes like this show that it’s not always the case.”
Karry first became concerned that Oliva, who attends Wharncliffe Side Nursery and will go to Wharncliffe Side Primary in September, might have Prader-Willi when she was around 18 months old.
She noticed her daughter becoming transfixed by food and began doing some research online.
Karry, who looks after Olivia and also works part-time with people with learning disabilities, said: “She is now meticulous in planning her meals out.
“She is thinking soon after her breakfast what she will have for dinner and then the same in the afternoon about what she will have for her tea. The situation is even harder because of the low muscle tone. Children can normally have 1,200 calories a day – whereas Oliva can only have 600.”
It means sweets, crisps, chocolate and cake are completely off the menu. Her diet consists of breakfast cereal and milk, a sandwich with no crusts or butter with a yoghurt and fruit, and a proper meal in the evening with plenty of vegetables. A snack of 50 calories or less mid-morning and mid-afternoon also helps keep her going and she takes part in various exercises such as swimming and trampolining.
“At the moment we do seem to have it under control, as long as she knows what she is going to eat and when.
“I do know of other stories where this isn’t the case though. Parents have resorted to locking cupboard doors to ensure children can’t get to the food.
“We do worry about the future and how we will control it as she gets older. But we’re determined to protect Olivia from obesity, the health complications and often the ridicule that goes with it.”
Richard will take on his walking challenge along the Trans Pennine Trail over four days from August 25 to 28. Olivia will join him for the last mile.
n Visit www.justgiving.com/olivias-story to sponsor him and www.olivias-story.co.uk to find out more about the condition.