A quarter of the UK's population is obese, according to the measurements of the body mass index (BMI). But it's not just about health and looks - it can also affect whether a family can adopt, writes a reader in our Readers' Column who wishes to remain anonymous.
As an overweight nation, it's pretty obvious that we're leaving a deadly legacy to future generations. Something has to be done about it, and as someone who tries to follow a healthy diet, I'm glad that the government has provided a guide to assessing what's an acceptable weight.
The danger of the BMI however, is that not only is the scientific reasoning behind it questionable but once the bureaucrats get their hands on it, it goes from being a sensible guideline to a commandment; set in stone, non-negotiable. And it might well prevent me and my husband from having what we so desperately want: a family.
We have been trying for a baby for six years now and we were devastated when I had a miscarriage three years ago.
We then considered IVF but as I was 38 then, I was too old for the procedure on the National Health (I'd like to add that our fertility problems were not weight-related).
We applied to a national adoption agency and waited for months for a meeting with a social worker. It went well until she gently advised me that my weight would be an issue in my application.
She said that prospective parents have to undergo a medical in which your BMI is measured, and that if it's too high your application can be refused. She said that I would need to achieve a mid-range BMI before the medical next year.
I was astounded - I'm 5'4", and a plump 12 stone - most of which is carried in the bust area I suspect. Not ideal, but I didn't realise it could actually prevent us from adopting children. I'm fit, I exercise regularly and have no problem keeping up with the kids in the school where I'm a playworker.
The social worker explained the reason they don't want overweight adults is that they want to place children with parents who will have a longer lifespan, especially when those children have had traumatic pasts.
I support that completely. What I'm not in favour of is the use of the BMI for the basis of this decision-making. When I registered my weight with my local GP's practice nurse, she found my story very bemusing.
Weight is not an adoption issue in all areas
She said she could understand my weight being an issue if it was likely to affect my health, but at 40, the little excess I carried so far showed no signs of doing so.
I joined a gym and had an instructor work out a programme for me.
A keen surfer and mountain biker, he told me that he was classed as obese according to the BMI scale because of his muscle mass. He worked out a programme for me that would wear off calories but not build muscle.
My BMI is around 28 - at the top end of the overweight range. To pass my medical my BMI needs to be somewhere between 18.5 and 25. If my BMI was 23, my weight would have to be around 9 stone 10.
The last time I was that weight, I was 25 and had lost a stone in hospital after an operation. I was so thin, I looked as if I had an eating disorder.
Overweight as Brad Pitt
If BMI could be used in every situation like mine, I might not feel so hard-done by, although I probably still would. But I have friends in another part of the country who are adopting through their local council and weight isn't an issue there.
They're not slim by any means, and they've told me of a lady who has adopted three children and whose girth is like - and I quote - the side of a house. Oh yes, and where was BMI when Brad Pitt was applying to adopt his kids? According to BMI he's in the same overweight range as I am.
If BMI could also be weighed up against how good we'd be as parents, I'd be much happier. They'd see that my husband and I are loving, caring and healthy people, who want to share their lives with two little souls who need the love and support we can offer - who, if I can reach a number decided in Whitehall, we can cherish, nurture, inspire and love for the rest of our lives.
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I was adopted as a two year old 28 years ago by my parents who would both be defined as obese according to their BMI. However they have both been outstanding parents and their weight has never stopped them doing all the normal activities any parent would do with their children.
Chris Thames, Sydney
As a doctor I agree the BMI is inaccurate. It would be useful generally in medicine if someone could find a better way of measuring body size than BMI for calculating drug doses too.
Dr Julia McBride, Middlesbrough
I'm afraid I am completely in agreement with the adoption authorities on this one. Your articles's author admits the merit of the principles of selection, but baulks at the implementation, simply because she doesn't like it. Statistically, fat people prejudice their health and shorten their life expectancy. Perhaps BMI is a blunt instrument, but the adoption aurhorities have to draw a clear line somewhere, and I suspect what your writer cannot stomach is that this criteria gives her no wriggle room. The solution is simple - get thin!
Robert Jones, Bridgwater
BMI isn't a scientific method for evaluating if someone is over or under weight; its simply a rough rule of thumb. It shouldn't be used for arbitary cut-offs, since it is meaningless for people with a higher proportion of muscle. Measuring body fat % would be much more usefull.
Nick England, Cambridge>
I entirely agree that BMI isn¿t always a fair way to measure obesity. However I also feel that people who are morbidly obese should not be allowed to adopt children due to the inevitable health problems and if they can¿t take responsibility for themselves, how can they take responsibility for a child?
I wonder if people who eat chocolate are going to be targetted next as unfit parents! Or what about those people who use biological washing powder!!. Honestly. It's a shame there isn't some sort of parenting test which needs to be done BEFORE so many people who should never be allowed to be parents, have children in the first place. That would make much more sense. I hope someone sees reason in this case soon and judges these people on the things that really matter, love, empathy, patience, ability and willingness to do whatever needs to be done to make a child happy and safe.
I find this story to be yet another hideous example of prejudice against overweight people. You can't guarantee that the parent will die young because they are overweight. Even if there is an increased risk of dying at a younger than average age, it will probably not be within the next 5 to 10 years so will not affect the development of the child as much as stated. It is also no guarantee that the parents will not be loving and give the child a stable family base that so many children in this country so urgently need. If the powers that be were really worried about the life expectancy of a parent to be, they would check for smoking, drug and alcohol use, the stress of a lifestyle, or even things like whether they live in a city or do they own a car... these all affect life expectancy, but none are as visible (or as fashionable) as a persons weight.
Same sex couples are allowed to adopt, don't overweight people have human rights? What about smokers? or those with speeding fines should they be allowed to adopt and breath smoke on the child while speeding along the M6? What happens if the child you adopt turns into an overweight layabout teenager? can you give them back?
Suppose a "thin" person adopts and puts weight on, then what happens! I am fat, it hasnt affected my ability to be a good parent to my now grown up children. It is a persons ability to be a good and loving parent which matters.
I think this is absolutely outrageous. I go to the gym 3-4 times a week and play football on a Saturday and Sunday. I have big legs and a thick chest from playing sport from a very young age, and ensure that i eat very healthily.
I'm 5'10" and weigh 13 stone 8, and cannot even be classed as chubby, yet my BMI (which i remember to be 27-28), suggests that i am obese! This is ridiculous! I hope that a more accurate and sensible solution can be sorted out, not only for the sake of prospective parents who are longing for a child, but also for all those kids who could benefit from a loving couple which would dramatically change their life for the better.
Alistair Paton, Bournemouth
It seems to me that overweight people, such as I, are the new targets in the war on having to blame someone else for all of society's ills. It is not acceptable (and rightly so) to discriminate against people on the grounds of race, gender or religion, so why is acceptable to discriminate against people because of their weight, as has happened in this case? Something is rotten in the state of Britain...
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