The number of overweight and obese children is rising substantially throughout the United States and the world. This, of course, is a problem in and of itself, however additional concerns are being raised about the prevalence and dangers of pediatric bariatric surgery. Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins take a closer look at this troubling trend and how it could impact our children.
The childhood obesity problem is most prevalent in developed countries, and rates are expected to rise even more over the next decade in affluent Middle Eastern countries. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal profiles one little boy, aged three, who currently weighs in at 61 pounds, more than twice the average for his age. He was just one year old when his parents began noticing health issues associated with his weight, including dangerously slow circulation due to pressure on his airways.
Due to his extraordinary size, his parents recently decided to have him undergo bariatric surgery. The procedure will remove part of his stomach, ideally so he will be unable to eat as much and feel satiated with lesser amounts of food. They hope that this surgery will prevent a lifetime of additional obesity-related health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, and severe sleep apnea.
Obesity in children is caused by a sedentary lifestyle (excess video games and television time, lack of physical activity) and overindulgence in unhealthy foods lacking in real nutrients. It is now a serious health problem not only in Western countries but other places, such as Saudi Arabia, where over 9% of school-aged youths are obese (about 18% of American school aged children are obese).
Weight-Loss Surgery and Children
U.S. doctors are willing to perform bariatric surgery on teenagers, however such procedures on children under the age of 13 are generally not done. In order to qualify for bariatric surgery, youths must have a BMI of 35 or higher in addition to a serious weight-related health problem. This may include diabetes, sleep apnea, increased pressure inside the skull (pseudotumo cerebri), high cholesterol/blood pressure, or severe liver inflammation.
There is a plethora of other factors doctors should consider before deciding to perform bariatric surgery on a child. Among these include:
• whether or not they have been able to lose weight on their own through diet and exercise
• whether they are finished growing
• understanding that they must be willing to follow lifestyle changes post-surgery
• use of alcohol or drugs within 12 months before surgery
If any of the above-mentioned factors were not considered before surgery, the child may suffer severe, even life-threatening complications from the procedure. Unfortunately, more and more rogue physicians are looking to cash in on this trending market by performing surgeries on children who do not qualify. Parents need to inform themselves on the general safety guidelines for bariatric surgery to avoid a devastating malpractice event.
There is now a global debate over the appropriate age for bariatric surgery. In the U.S., the youngest is typically about 14; abroad, as stated, children as young as three are undergoing the procedure. The World Health Organization points to a total lack of data on the long-term health effects of such surgeries on children, and that surgeons should err conservatively on the age spectrum.
Currently, the issue of highest concern is not the procedure itself but on how the abrupt change in nutritional consumption would affect long-term brain and sexual development. The brain critically needs the proper types and amounts of nutrients to mature properly, which also affects hormones associated with sexual maturation and cognitive functioning. There is currently no data proving weight-loss surgeries do not affect this development.