Author and celebrity nutritional biochemist Dr Libby Weaver has issued a public apology after outrage at a derogatory term used in her latest book, What Am I Supposed to Eat?
“I used a word to describe Down syndrome that I thought was a current, medically-used word. It has since been brought to my attention that it is a word used in a derogatory way,” the Australian-based New Zealander said in a Facebook video.
“I am mortified to have caused anyone any distress through my error, in particular children with Down syndrome and their families.
“I have instructed my publishing company to immediately begin the process of recalling the book from sale and arranging a reprint where the word will not appear. I am so very sorry for the distress I have caused. Please accept my deepest apology.”
Weaver, who used the word ‘mongolism’ to describe people with Down Syndrome, has also offered a refund to those who have purchased the book.
The word was coined in the 1860s by Dr John Langdon Down, who the condition was ultimately named after and who believed those with the condition resembled the appearance of people from Mongolia.
The word was commonly used until the 1960s when a group of British scientists took to The Lancet to point out that it was a “misleading and derogatory” term that should be abandoned.
The World Health Organisation agreed and replaced the term with one of their suggestions, Down syndrome in 1965.
In the book, Weaver suggests pregnant women should consume folate to reduce the risk of “neural tube defects, spina bifida, deformed limbs and mongolism”.
“Since folate is required by the body to facilitate cell division, a process that begins immediately after conception, if this nutrient is deficient there is a much higher risk of abnormal synthesis of DNA and congenital abnormalities including neural tube defects, spina bifida, deformed limbs and mongolism,” she writes.
Down syndrome is a genetic condition caused by an extra chromosone 21, which is why Down syndrome is also sometimes known as trisomy 21.
According to Down Syndrome Australia, one of every 700 to 900 babies born worldwide will have Down syndrome, although this number is lower in Australia. The condition varies from person to person and typically results in some characteristic physical features, health and development challenges and a degree of intellectual disability.
“A key part of our work is raising awareness and understanding about the rights of people living with Down syndrome,” Dr Ellen Skladzien, CEO of Down Syndrome Australia told Fairfax Media. “It is disappointing that the author of the book in question did not have a greater awareness and understanding about Down syndrome.
“The term ‘mongolism’ is an outdated and offensive term which was used historically to refer to Down syndrome. There has been consensus for many decades that this is not an appropriate term to describe people with Down syndrome. I am pleased to see that the book that utilised this inappropriate term has been withdrawn and that the author has apologised.”