Dzhambulat (Jambik) Khatokhov is four foot three inches tall and weighs sixteen stone, as much as a baby elephant, yet astonishingly Jambik is just seven years old. Nobody knows why he’s so big or what it might mean for his health Here, a British doctor travels to meet Jambik and his family and uncovers a far more disturbing story than he imagined. Kabardino-Balkaria is a republic in the Caucasus Mountains in the far south of Russia. Just 70 miles from war-torn Chechnya, Kabardino-Balkaria is a wild and dangerous place with a history of terrorism and kidnapping. Dr Ian Campbell, one of the world’s leading experts in obesity, is travelling over 2,000 miles in order to meet 7 year old Jambik Khatokhov; the biggest boy in the world.
Dr Campbell first heard about Jambik when his story started to make the headlines in the UK press. The boy’s 16 stone size seemed to defy all medical explanation. As the founder of The National Obesity Forum and an advisor to doctors all over the world, Dr Campbell was determined to take on Jambik’s case.
This could be a challenge! In this poor and superstitious corner of the world being big is not seen as a problem. Local people do not think he is sick, they spoil him and feed him. As a western doctor, Ian Campbell takes a very different view “Very few of the obese people that I deal with want to be that way”.
Over the next week, Dr. Ian Campbell will observe Jambik to see if there are any clues in his every day life that might explain his phenomenal weight, then he plans to fly Jambik to a leading clinic in Moscow for specialist tests.
Jambik dwarfs his older brother who, at 14, is twice his age but half his weight. According to his mother, Nelya Kabardarkova, Jambik eats normally and exercises every day. So, Ian will have to consider if a hormonal imbalance or genetic condition can explain Jambik’s weight.
The next morning, school starts with a PE class, it’s an opportunity for Dr Campbell to see how Jambik’s fitness compares with his classmates. “He’s very willing but actually he’s not very able. I find it quite distressing to see this seven year old boy who’s so much larger than all his friends at school. He’s not able to do the same things that they are doing, his movements aren’t as sharp, he couldn’t get down on his haunches, he couldn’t move as fast and I never saw him break sweat as it was all very sedentary”.
But, in maths class, Ian finds that Jambik is much more able. Jambik’s assessment by his teacher is good and is important to Ian’s investigation. Most genetic disorders which cause overgrowth or obesity also cause learning difficulties or abnormalities like unusual head shape or extra fingers and toes. Jambik has none of these telltale signs. After school, Ian accompanies the family to the local market where he gets a startling reception.
Jambik’s size has earned him the nickname Sosruko after an ancient hero from local mythology. Sosruko was a giant, a fierce warrior who protected his people. He embodies qualities people in the Caucasus greatly respect; strength and size. Jambik is celebrated and someone to be looked after, looked up to and given gifts.
When Jambik was born on the 24th of September 1999, he weighed a perfectly normal 6lb 8oz but, almost immediately he started to grow twice as fast as he should have done. At one year he weighed as much as the average six year old.
The family take Ian to a local restaurant, named Sosruko, for dinner. Nelya claims that Jambik eats only 2,000 calories a day but, Ian believe, to justify his weight, he must be eating nerer 3,00 calories. During the course of the meal it becomes obvious that Jambik is eating more than claimed.
So far, Ian’s investigations have told him that Jambik is probably eating too much and exercising too little. But, this alone cannot explain why this seven year old boy weighs 16 stone. It’s all leading Ian to wonder whether Nelya has any real incentive to reduce Jambik’s weight gain or if Nelya has another agenda and there’s some gain for the family.
Nelya’s trouble began long before Jambik was born. She grew up in an impoverished village in the dying years of the Soviet Empire. She’s twice divorced and believes black magic was used to persuade her husbands to leave. As a single mother in a traditional Islamic culture, Nelya was in danger of becoming an outcast. In a town with 90% unemployment and with no means of financial support, she and her sons might even starve.
But then, Jambik’s fame began to spread. His status as the biggest boy in the world has made him a global celebrity. He has been on Russian National TV, Czech and Georgia TV, on Germany’s most popular news show and even been flown to Japan to appear on television.
Since around the age of three, Jambik has been weight-lifting and wrestling; popular sports amongst boys in the Caucasus. Now his life’s ambition is to be a sumo wrestler.
Nelya: “Our hope is that Jambik will provide a secure future for our family, and I must say that what we have now, we have thanks to Jambik”. Dr Campbell is less optimistic. Unless Jambik loses weight soon, he is convince that the boy will succumb to life-threatening illnesses, like heart disease and type II diabetes. Ian needs to find out what tests have been carried out on Jambik so far.
The local health specialist had referred them to a hospital in Moscow, but Jambik and his mother never turned up, having apparently gone to the wrong hospital. The local doctor then produced notes taken from tests done in 2003 which showed that when he was 3, Jambik’s bones developed from normal to those of a seven year old in the space of six months.
Although there are rare genetic conditions that result in accelerated bone growth in children, Ian is aware that one possible cause is the use of anabolic steroids.
In Moscow, Nelya is excited by the opportunities it offers for advancing Jambik’s sporting and celebrity career “I hope that, in Moscow, some producer or trainer will meet with Jambik and take him under his wing to mould his career for the future”. She is not expecting that the tests will provide any new insights into Jambik’s condition.
Dr Campbell has arranged for the tests to take place at Russia’s leading private hospital. Dr Natalia Belova at the American Medical Center in Moscow is a paediatric geneticist and has agreed to carry out the medical tests. One thing that is immediately clear is that Jambik’s heart is struggling to support his body and doctors warn Nelya against making him do any strenuous exercise.
With the tests complete, there is no conclusive proof of steroid abuse or a genetic disorder although X-rays show that Jambik’s bone development is now that of a thirteen year old.
Ian knows that there is more to this case than just morbid obesity. He is still convinced that anabolic steroids explain it, possibly given when Jambik was aged between two and three. Although a steroid test on Jambik shows up negative, in practise it’s difficult to completely rule out the use of steroids as all traces of the drugs leave the body two weeks after being taken.
Meanwhile, the family make the most of their time in Moscow. Despite the doctors warning that Jambik shouldn’t do strenuous exercise, Nelya takes him to the best sumo club in Russia. The sumo trainer is so impressed by Jambik that he tells Nelya he’ll try and arrange sponsorship.
Having returned to the UK to attend to his practise, Dr Campbell is now back in Moscow for one last attempt at convincing Nelya that her son is dangerously overweight. But, before he does this he visits Dr Belova and finds she has revised her opinion and now thinks that genetic reasons are more likely. She thinks steroids should have triggered early puberty but Ian thinks a short, early course could trigger the bone growth without these side-effects.
In the end, Jambik may just have a unique condition as Nelya has always maintained. Doctors are agreed, that whatever the cause, Jambik is seriously overweight.
CREDITS: All of the above information came from the UK Channel 4 “Bodyshock” documentary series