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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 June, 2004, 06:04 GMT 07:04 UK
Obesity death claim is disputed
A three-year-old girl whose death was used to highlight the problems of obesity died because she had a genetic defect, it has been claimed.

Last month a report by MPs on obesity prompted headline news when it included an account of the girl who weighed six stone when she died.

It sparked a debate about junk food, parental responsibility and exercise.

But scientists have told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme genetic abnormalities caused the girl's death.

Addenbrooke's Hospital at Cambridge University, which handled the case, said this meant she felt hungry all the time and her body was telling her she was starving.

'Choking on fat'

I was very disappointed and I must say annoyed at the way this child's case was represented.
Dr Sadaf Farooqi
The condition could have been treated but doctors only found out after she died.

Her parents, who were blamed in some of the newspapers, are said to be extremely upset.

The Commons Health Committee used the evidence of Dr Sheila McKenzie, a consultant paediatrician at the Royal London, in its report.

She claimed a three-year-old died of heart failure, brought on by obesity.

And she warned children were choking because fat was blocking their airways.

Ms McKenzie was unable to comment when contacted by Today.

However, Dr Sadaf Farooqi, of Addenbrookes, told Today: "We were sent information and got samples about this child who was clearly obese at a very early age and running into problems.

"It is an incontrovertible fact that a genetic defect was the cause of this child's problem."

Dr Farooqi said she did not hear of the case again until the select committee report sparked headlines in every paper.

"I was appalled and I must say I felt immediately for the parents and family of this child," she said.

"Because with the headlines came the sensational description of guilt and parents over-feeding.

"And the clear implication was that the child had been overfed with bad parents resulting in severe obesity and her death.

"That is simply not true."


We are being criticised, I believe unfairly, by people who have obviously read tabloid headlines and not troubled to read the detail of our report.
David Hinchliffe
Dr Farooqi continued: "I was very disappointed and I must say annoyed at the way this child's case was represented.

"Not only the actual description of the case and how it was handled by the media and the Commons committee but also as to the fact that it was completely scientifically inappropriate to link this child's case with the common problem of childhood obesity."

Professor Tom Sanders, a nutrition expert at King's College London, suggested the select committee had been hijacked by pressure groups.

"I think the select committee was to some extent duped," he told Today.

"They were fed a lot of information by pressure groups who had a vested interest and these are people who have a fervent belief that they know what we should be eating.

"I think there was also a covert influence of the drug companies.

"Obesity is a problem. We need to something about it.

"But it is about encouraging kids to eat a balanced diet and do not grow up with a fat phobia which the headlines are likely to encourage."


David Hinchliffe, Labour chair of the select committee, insisted the report had been misrepresented, and that the MPs did not say or imply that the girl had died from an unhealthy diet.

He said: "It saddens me that we are being criticised, I believe unfairly, by people who have obviously read tabloid headlines and not troubled to read the detail of our report and the evidence given."

Mr Hinchliffe said he was "absolutely astonished" at suggestions the committee was hijacked by the food industry which was "frankly frightened silly" by the report's conclusions and recommendations.

Of the girl's parents, he added: "I certainly feel sorry for the way in which they have been upset by the manner in which the media are implying that our committee suggested that this child died of an unhealthy diet.

"It is quite apparent from looking at our report - if people read our report - we did not either say that or indeed imply it and neither did the doctor."

The report said obese children could become the first generation to die before their parents.

The BBC's Angus Stickler
"Everyone assumed this case was about... poor diet, lack of exercise"


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