'Genetic abnormality' caused 6st. three-year-old's death

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A three-year-old girl who was said to have died of obesity was in fact the victim of a genetic abnormality, it has been reported.

A three-year-old girl who was said to have died of obesity was in fact the victim of a genetic abnormality, it has been reported.

BBC Radio 4's Today programme reported that the girl highlighted by MPs over the UK's obesity epidemic actually died from a genetic defect. The parents were distraught at the way the case had been misrepresented.

The Parliamentary Select Committee's report, which warned that obese children could become the first generation to die before their parents, gave prominence to the case in which it recounted how the girl died of heart failure because she was so overweight.

Newspaper reports said that the dead youngster was a Bengali girl from east London. She should have weighed around 2st 4lb but had a Body Mass Index (BMI) which equated to around 6st.

The case was reported by Dr Sheila McKenzie, a consultant at the Royal London Hospital.

The hospital runs an obesity service for children which, even though it has only been open for three years, has an 11-month waiting list.

Dr McKenzie also described four children who required ventilatory assistance at home for sleep apnoea who were effectively "choking on their own fat".

The committee's report made recommendations to kick-start action amid gloomy predictions of a future where serious diseases caused by obesity are common.

The committee also called for a voluntary withdrawal of TV advertising of junk food to children.

Experts at Cambridge University's unit at Addenbrooke's Hospital, to whom the girl was referred, are adamant that she suffered from a genetic defect, Today reported.

This meant her body was constantly telling her she was starving to death, causing her to scream for food all the time.

Doctors only discovered the condition could have been treated when it was too late, according to the programme.

The parents' distress had been made even worse by coverage of the select committee report, which suggested they were to blame.

They are "extremely distressed" and feel unable to talk about what has happened at present.

The Royal London Hospital said on Today that Dr McKenzie cannot discuss the case because she does not have the parents' permission.

Dr Sadaf Farooqi, of Addenbrookes, told Today: "We were sent information and got samples about this child who was clearly obese at a very early age and running into problems.

"It is an incontrovertible fact that a genetic defect was the cause of this child's problem."

Dr Farooqi said she did not hear of the case again until the select committee report sparked headlines in every paper.

"I was appalled and I must say I felt immediately for the parents and family of this child," she said.

"Because with the headlines came the sensational description of guilt and parents over-feeding.

"And the clear implication was that the child had been overfed with bad parents resulting in severe obesity and her death.

"That is simply not true."

Dr Farooqi continued: "I was very disappointed and I must say annoyed at the way this child's case was represented.

"Not only the actual description of the case and how it was handled by the media and the Commons committee but also as to the fact that it was completely scientifically inappropriate to link this child's case with the common problem of childhood obesity."

The expert rejected the committee's conclusion that obesity is virtually untreatable and prevention is best and suggests the evidence MPs took was too narrow.

"They should have considered how obesity has emerged as a medical problem in a very short interval and that is down to genetic and biological factors," she said.

"I don't think they actually took advice from people who are really working and focusing on that aspect of the field - ourselves in Cambridge, colleagues in London.

"There are a number of centres in the UK where there is considerable expertise on genetic, biochemical and metabolic pathways."

Dr Farooqi told Today: "Clearly a number of factors have worked together orcontributed to the problem of obesity.

"I think what we need to do is to understand those factors - and we don't fully understand all of them yet - and then we need to tackle them.

"So apportioning blame and particularly at an individual level when we are talking about why certain people have become obese, really I think is inappropriate and ignores the basic medical facts."

Professor Tom Sanders, nutrition expert at King's College London, suggested the select committee had been hijacked by pressure groups.

"I think the select committee was to some extent duped," he told Today.

"They were fed a lot of information by pressure groups who had a vested interest and these are people who have a fervent belief that they know what we should be eating.

"I think there was also a covert influence of the drug companies.

"Obesity is a problem. We need to something about it.

"But it is about encouraging kids to eat a balanced diet and do not grow up with a fat phobia which the headlines are likely to encourage."

David Hinchliffe, Labour chair of the select committee, insisted the report hadbeen misrepresented.

The MPs did not say or imply that the girl had died from an unhealthy diet, Mr Hinchliffe told Today.

"We got this evidence, as you know, from a leading clinician, one of a limited number specialising in obesity at the present time," he said.

"Her evidence indicated the extreme concern we need to have about the problems of obesity.

"But I think Dr Farooqi and Professor Sanders appear to be relying on tabloid reports of what we said rather than actually looking at what we said in the report."

The Wakefield MP continued: "I am honestly left with the impression that Dr Farooqi and Professor Sanders must have been asleep for the past year when we as a committee have been beavering away on this on this matter, taking evidence from all sorts of people, including people who have concern about genetic and biological factors.

"Why didn't they contact the committee when we are actually discussing in public the circumstances of this child's death and the evidence we had received about the child?"

Mr Hinchliffe went on: "It saddens me that we are being criticised, I believe unfairly, by people who have obviously read tabloid headlines and not troubled to read the detail of our report and the evidence given."

He added: "My suspicion is, with this story, that there is more than a whiff of medical politics between the two groups of doctors concerned."

Mr Hinchliffe said he was "absolutely astonished" at suggestions the committee was hijacked by the food industry which was "frankly frightened silly" by the report's conclusions and recommendations.

Of the girl's parents, he added: "I certainly feel sorry for the way in which they have been upset by the manner in which the media are implying that our committee suggested that this child died of an unhealthy diet.

"It is quite apparent from looking at our report - if people read our report - we did not either say that or indeed imply it and neither did the doctor."

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