Laurie and Debbie say:
We’ve been thinking about the story of Alex Lange, which was in the news earlier this month. Alex is a four-month-old baby, entirely breast-fed, 99th percentile in height and weight.
He’s a big boy.
But in the cold, calculating numbered charts of insurance companies, he is fat. That’s why he is being turned down for health insurance.
Alex’s pre-existing condition — “obesity” — makes him a financial risk.
By fortunate chance, Alex’s father is a part-time news anchor on a local TV station, which publicized the story. And the insurance company changed its tune and “attributed the boy’s rejection for health coverage to ‘a flaw in our underwriting system.’”
You could hardly have a purer example of the collective insanity about fat in this society.
We could talk about this story from a size acceptance perspective: we could talk about health at any size, fatphobia, and any number of other approaches.
We could talk about the health values of breastfeeding.
Emphasizing the value of breastfeeding for both mothers and children, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) both recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and then supplemented breastfeeding for at least one year and up to two years or more. While recognizing the superiority of breastfeeding, regulating authorities also work to minimize the risks of artificial feeding. (NOTE: We are aware that many women can’t breastfeed, and that many healthy babies are not breastfed. But in this context, where an insurance company challenged the health of a breastfed baby, the general value of breastfeeding is important.)
We could talk about health insurance policy, and public health.
But we want to talk about an underlying truth, which may not be quite as obvious. When the underwriters made the initial decision, they weren’t saying anything about Alex’s projected health in a year, or two. No one is really saying that childhood obesity (let alone infant obesity) is a marker for the child’s health. Instead, they’re saying that an insurance company can think thirty, forty, sixty years ahead, into a future that none of us can see, and make projections that change people’s lives.
In thirty years, Alex will probably be a tall man. That’s about all we know. We don’t know if he’ll be fat or thin. We don’t know if he’ll be an athlete or sedentary. We don’t know if he’ll eat well or badly. We don’t even know how eating well and eating badly will be defined in thirty years. We don’t know what his cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, or other “predictive” numbers will be. We don’t know if he’ll be an optimist or a pessimist or somewhere in between. We don’t know a damned thing about him except that he’s a large baby.
And somehow the collective insanity has led too many people to believe that knowing that he’s a large baby is enough to go on. That insurance company didn’t change its mind because it thinks it was wrong: it changed its mind because Alex’s dad works in television. You know there are fat babies out there who don’t have Alex’s connections who have been denied coverage in the exact same way, and those insurance companies aren’t changing their policies.
Because they think that weighing 17 pounds at four months means he doesn’t deserve health support and backup. And they’re wrong.