Junkfood Science: Too fat to love a child?

June 24, 2007

Too fat to love a child?

This heartbreaking story in the Sunday Herald Sun is another example of government agencies not knowing what’s best, or acting in the best interests of people ... especially if they’re fat. There is no credible science to support a government official’s decision to base adoption eligibility on BMI.

Yet, a couple eager to give a loving home to a child, and told they’d make wonderful parents in every way, went through three years of bureaucratic red tape to become eligible to adopt, only to be told she was too fat. Until she loses 110 pounds, they won’t be allowed to adopt a child. Here’s their story:

Woman ‘too fat to adopt child’

WOULD-BE mother Kylie Lannigan has been told she is too fat to adopt a child. Mrs Lannigan, 29, and husband, Dave, 37, are devastated after complying with three years of bureaucracy to become eligible. Mrs Lannigan, who is [5 ft. 6in.] tall and weighs [277 pounds] ...

“They (two Department of Human Services adoption counsellors) ... said everything was looking good and we would be wonderful parents, but that my weight was holding me back from adopting. “They gave me a BMI (body mass index) chart. [and] said 'You are here' and drew a dot on the chart and then said, “When you get to here give us a ring' and they would come and start the assessment again.

“By the time I get down to that weight I will be too old - they're asking me to lose more than [110 pounds]." ...

“I was disappointed when they said it," Mr Lannigan said. “It's discrimination." Mrs Lannigan works about 40 hours a week as a chef at the local hotel bistro. Her husband is a vineyard supervisor. The homeowners have been together for 13 years. She has polycystic ovarian syndrome, which can lead to weight gain and difficulties getting pregnant.... “I walk to work and Tafe everyday. I have been tested for heart disease and diabetes and I am okay."

Mr. Lannigan is right, that’s all this is. They are a stable, loving couple with good jobs and able to provide a nurturing home for a child, and most of all, are desperate for a child to love. That’s all that matters to an orphaned child.

While the government agency said their decision was based on health concerns, there are several false assumptions at work here that have nothing to do with health.

First of all, the popular belief that because she's fat this mother is more likely to be sickly and die prematurely and, therefore, would not make a good candidate, is not supported by any evidence, as we've shown repeatedly here. Given the findings of the longest, prospective studies and clinical trials, as well as the soundest populations studies, she actually might have a survival advantage.

To show how illogical the concept of mortality risks are applied when it comes to fat women, even the fattest women are more likely to outlive normal weight men. “Being male is now the single largest demographic risk factor for early mortality in developed countries,” according to Daniel Kruger, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Yet, no one would deny the important role that fathers can play in a child's life, too.

The second insinuation here is that her PCOS is due to her being fat and makes her more likely to have debilitating illness or die prematurely. This is a popular set of misbeliefs. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common endocrine disorders among women of reproductive age, affecting between 4% and 8%, although may be as high as 30% in women with secondary amenorrhea, according to Joyce King, CNM, RN, FNP, PhD in a recent issue of the Journal of Midwifery Women’s Health. The cause is still unknown, but a genetic component has been suggested by the familial pattern seen in some cases. While obesity is associated with PCOS, however, it is a side effect of PCOS. Similarly, weight loss does not make the PCOS go away!

“Although certain subjective symptoms allegedly are reduced following weight loss, there is no solid evidence that weight loss is an effective treatment for PCOS,” according to obesity researcher Paul Ernsberger, Ph.D., an associate professor of nutrition at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Nor is there any evidence that achieving long-term weight loss is even possible, safe or would improve lifespan.

PCOS has been associated with higher rates of cardiovascular risk factors, leading to the popular belief, even among healthcare professionals, that women with PCOS must, therefore, be more likely to die prematurely or have higher morbidities. Not so. Risk factors are not disease or even predictive of disease.

Researchers in England noted that the actual prevalance of heart disease in women with PCOS had never been reported, so they set out to test this hypothesis and to determine the actual cardiovascular mortality and morbidity among 786 women diagnosed with PCOS compared with 1,060 age-matched control women over a 32-year period. Using not only clinical records and death certificates, but also clinical examinations of a representative sample, they found that while the women with PCOS had higher levels of several cardiovascular “risk factors” (hyperlipidemia, increased waist:hip ratio, diabetes, hypertension, etc.), their actual all-cause and cardiovascular mortality were similar to women in the general population. This observed paradox — high levels of coronary risk factors with no appreciable increase in heart disease or premature deaths — “challenges our understanding of the etiology of coronary heart disease in women,” they concluded.

Popular beliefs about fat people, with no credible evidence, are behind countless initiatives to “incentivize” them to lose weight and adopt “healthy lifestyles.” But the unmistakable fact is that cruelty done against someone simply because of how they look is never in the interest of their health or wellbeing

© 2007 Sandy Szwarc

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