Thursday, December 21, 2006

New Chinese Adoption Rules Ban the Very Obese

Since 1985 there have been close to 60,000 children adopted from China to parents in the United States. Last year alone there were close to 8,000.

The Chinese government, undeniably not one to be overly concerned with rights, recently imposed some new rules whereby they've imposed some exclusion criteria on foreign adoption applicants. They've barred applicants who are unmarried, over 50, on antidepressants, have a "severe facial deformity" or meet the NHLBI's definition of extreme obesity with a body mass index greater than 40.

I'm at a bit of a loss.

On the one hand, there's no doubt whatsoever that having a body mass index greater than 40 confers very dramatic medical risk of both illness and premature death. On the other hand, so too does smoking, a recent admission to the hospital for congestive heart disease, a diagnosis of cancer, and a myriad of other medical conditions.

Now it's possible that China discriminates against the other medical conditions as well, though certainly the article I read didn't mention them.

Bias against the obese is longstanding, not just in China, but globally. I still see political cartoons, regular cartoons and articles vilifying the obese. I still see "fat suits" advertised as fun Halloween costumes. To read about some of the bias against obesity in American society, read Kelly Brownell's fantastic paper on the matter.

Do you have negative attitudes towards the obese? Studies have shown that most of us do, there have even been studies that show folks with weight to lose look down on other folks with weight to lose.

The first step to stopping bias is identifying it. Take stock of your own responses and thoughts on obesity. The next time you interact with an individual with weight to lose, try and identify whether or not you've got negative associations, and then more importantly, try to rid yourself of them.

Obesity is predominantly a disease of the environment, not the individual.

I wonder whether or not China's new rules will affect the number of children adopted. While the BMI over 40 crowd is not terrifically large, it is growing rapidly. I imagine the bigger hit will be the ban on folks taking antidepressants, they're much more common, perhaps partially because societal bias as a whole is so damn pervasive and so damn depressing.