COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A Colorado Springs doctor is bucking a trend of bias against women with high BMIs seeking in vitro fertilization.
Infertility is a reality for 12-15% of American couples trying to conceive. In vitro fertilization (IVF) -- a process by which the embryo is fertilized outside of the body and then implanted in the uterine wall -- is a common treatment method. But some doctors say it's not for everyone.
A recent article in the New York Times Magazine discussed a facet of fat-shaming culture in the medical community: some fertility specialists refuse IVF treatment to candidates with an obese BMI. Clinics claim this is because irregular ovulation cycles, a leading cause of female infertility, have been linked to obesity. But the reality is not so cut and dry.
Dr. Paul Magarelli, M.D., a fertility specialist with a local practice in Colorado Springs, makes an effort to treat his patients regardless of where they fall on the BMI table.
An obese patient -- someone with a BMI between 30 and 39 according to the NIH -- will not necessarily demonstrate weight-related health issues, The Times reports. Refusing patients with strong vitals and a clean medical history, despite their weight, is discriminatory.
Magarelli explains that clinics may set a BMI cut-off of 30 to keep their IVF success rates higher, not because the procedure is unsafe for the patient or embryo.
"This bias against obesity exists because you can see it," says Magarelli, "whereas you can't see when patients have drinking and drug problems."
Magarelli estimates that 40% of his IVF patients fall within the obese BMI range; many of them find his practice after having been turned down at other clinics because of their weight. However, 40% is not inordinately high -- it's actually close to the national average, says Magarelli. As the typical American BMI increases, the medical community must adapt to treating larger patients, not turning them away.
Magarelli adds a caveat that patients with a BMI of 40 or higher -- what NIH classifies as morbidly obese -- may be at medical risk during the IVF procedure. In that case, he consults with an anesthesiologist to determine if there may be complications during resuscitation.