Communicator (communicator) wrote,

'They died because they were fat'

You may have seen the newspaper reports of the research into causes of death in childbirth in the UK. I had skimmed the coverage, which reported that a major causal factor (in fact the only factor mentioned) was maternal obesity. According to the newspapers, women died because they were fat. I don't think that's putting it too strongly.

Now, thanks to fjm I have read this analysis of the actual results, which are the exact opposite of what the newspapers said.

The new government report on maternal deaths in Britain from 2003 to 2005, “Saving Mothers’ Lives,” has just been released. It is an intense and heartbreaking look at the suffering that nearly 300 women of childbearing age endured before they died. Although not all of the findings are grievous, the documentation and disturbing case histories in this investigation point to real needs for improving maternity care.

What has been appalling is the media coverage. It is difficult to imagine how it’s possible to read the 296-page report and arrive at such portrayals.

The report actually stated that among the maternal deaths, 51% occurred among women who were labelled ‘overweight’ or ‘obese.’ But 54.8% of women of childbearing age in Britain were labelled ‘overweight’ or ‘obese.’ In other words, fewer fat women than would be expected had died. In contrast, 48% of maternal deaths were among women with BMIs of below 25 — 13% higher than the 42.3% they represented in the population.

So in fact being underweight is a greater danger-sign than being overweight. My guess is that this is when low weight is linked to other problems in the person's life (I doubt that a naturally slim figure is a danger sign).

What factors actually did affect mortality? Existing physical disease such as diabetes or TB. Genital mutilation (alas). Marginal status such as recent immigration to this country. Lack of English language (and other communication difficulties). Social exclusion. Substance abuse. Domineering and violent partners. Previous children in care due to child abuse.

“More than 80% of the women who died...did not seek care at all, booked late or failed to maintain regular contact with the maternity services, in the main because of fear that their unborn child might be removed at birth."

None of this surprises me. My midwife friend tells me tragic stories of women severely affected by these issues, and my sister-in-law who had a very premature baby tells me that most of the other women in the unit were struggling with these problems.

But what makes me most angry is that the tragic stories of these 300 dead women have been distorted to match popular prejudice. We can't say much about them, but one thing we can say is, they didn't die because they were too fat. They died because of social failure.
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