Friday, 19 February 2010

When Normal is wrong

I just spotted a news story on BBC and made a few tweets about it. Realising that a series of 140 character microblogs was insufficient to express how I feel, I'm going to rant here.

News story

This girl is 5 years old. Regardless of whether she is sporty or not, this is not the age to be putting her under pressure to lose/not gain weight. The fact that her parents felt they had to justify themselves and the way they raise their daughter by stating that she has her '5 a day' and she's 'sporty' just goes to show how insidious this monitoring culture that we live in has become.

Children are monitered from the day they are born. While I accept that health monitoring of young babies was probably very helpful when it began, now it is worse than useless.

An anecdote. When my daughter was 4 days old, I was told she had lost too much weight. She had to gain a certain amount of weight within 2 days. I was told that maybe my breastmilk was insufficient. Maybe I should supplement her with formula milk. This advice was from health professionals. Who measured my completely breastfed baby against the charts designed for forumla fed babies. Who were recommending a solution that could actually impair her health in the long term. Who retreated very quickly when I told them their advice was wrong, their statistics were wrong, and that while they were welcome to visit us and monitor progress, that my daughter would not be taking formula milk, and she would not be weighed again while under their care. This was my 6th child. I had the benefit and confidence of experience. Pity the poor first time mother faced with the same pressure! By the way, the daughter who had lost too much weight and was dangeroulsy close to being ill is now 10 months, still breast fed, and very much healthy. And still smaller than 'average'. Which brings me on to my next point.

Average. Norms. Healthy range. The young 'overweight' girl is 1% outside the healthy range. She has a BMI that would be considered underwieght in an adult. My daughter is taller than average, but underweight. Another of my children is shorter than average, and overweight. Another child is more intelligent than average, yet another child is underachieving (according to SATs). Yet all my children are normal, healthy, smart kids.

Parents, and through them, the children, are put under enourmous pressure by the state to reach targets that are determined by the state. The state has decided what is average. Yet, the state doesn't seem to realise that to get an average, there needs to be some that are below, and some that are above this mythical average. Those that are above average (but not too much) are ok. But woe betide those that fall below average.

Woe betide anyone that doesn't fit the norm. Or, that doesn't fit the norm, and is unwilling or unable to change to fit into the norm. Don't be too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too intelligent, too thick, don't be gay, don't be a single parent, don't have more than 2 children, don't earn less that £20k, don't buck the system, don't home educate, don't be disabled, don't have SEN, don't breastfeed, don't co-sleep, don't be overcrowded, don't have independent thought, don't protest. Fit the state model of perfect averageness, or accept intervention. If you don't, you are subversive, an enemy of the state, WRONG.

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