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Fattism' and Adoption

Date:6 NOV 2009

HH Judge Geoffrey Kamil CBE

We seem to live in an age when even the desire to create an 'airbrush perfect society' has extended to the field of adoption. I was recently reminded of a news report from January 2009 containing the headline 'man told he is too fat to adopt'. This involved a couple from Leeds called Mr and Mrs H, who had applied to Leeds City Council to be assessed as prospective adopters. They were told that because Mr H's weight was 24.5st (156kg), he was morbidly obese with a body mass index (BMI) of 42. He was informed by the council that his BMI must be below 40 before the couple could be considered as potential adoptive parents, 'because there was a risk he could become ill or even die'. He was quoted as saying, 'I just feel as though we were only judged on my weight and not all the other good things about us. We don't drink or smoke and we could give a child a happy and safe home'.

The council said that it had a duty to place children in a household where they will receive the best possible lifelong care. The medical advisors for the council apparently felt that the weight/BMI issue could create a future health problem. Mr H was told that couple's application would be deferred for 6 months to give Mr H the chance to lose weight and reduce his BMI below 40. I do not know whether Mr H has succeeded in losing the required weight but in his observations to the world press he has highlighted the issue of whether there should be a pursuit of some perfection ideal, or just the ability to provide a good loving home to a child. On the face of it, this case seems to illustrate discrimination against people who are deemed to be overweight. This also seems to be an issue in other parts of the world. I recently discovered a case in Kansas City USA, where a man was denied the ability to adopt his nephew because 'he was too fat'. The medical concerns were that because of his weight he may develop diabetes or sleep apnoea. The interesting feature of that case is that the man was already approved as a long term foster carer, and had fostered many children.

To read the rest of this article, see November [2009] Family Law journal.

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