- Some doctors fear that children’s bariatric surgery may affect their development
- But a letter from Saudi Arabia published today suggested that was not the case.
- Results showed no growth difference in 5 to 21-year-olds who had surgery.
Obese children should have weight loss surgery because it is safe and can improve their health, say scientists.
Medics are cautious about offering bariatric surgery to overweight youth, amid fears that it could impede their growth.
But a study from Saudi Arabia today brushed off the concerns, with researchers saying the benefits of the procedure were ‘obvious’.
The results showed that the surgery helped him keep the weight off and reverse type 2 diabetes a decade after the operation. It also did not stop his growth in height.
Lead author Dr Ayad Alqahtani, Professor of Bariatric Surgery at King Saud University, said: ‘If you intervene early with surgery, you can quickly cure children’s obesity-related diseases and improve their quality of life. Huh.
‘If you wait longer, their diseases may be irreversible.’
The UK has one of the worst childhood obesity rates in Europe, with almost one in ten young people falling into this category. Two out of ten children in America are obese.
A study suggests that obese children should be offered bariatric surgery because it is safe and works (file image)
NHS doctors already offer weight-loss operations, which in rare circumstances can cost up to £15,000, for obese children.
Typically this surgery is only performed on patients when their lives are considered to be at risk, and other interventions such as diet have failed.
The most common procedures are gastric bypass, where surgical staples are used to create a small pouch at the top of the stomach.
Others include gastric band surgery, when an elastic band is placed around the top of the stomach to limit the amount of food it can eat.
What is obesity? And what are its health risks?
Obesity is defined as an adult with a BMI of 30 or more.
A healthy person’s BMI – calculated by dividing weight in kg by height in meters, and the answer again by height – is between 18.5 and 24.9.
In children, obesity is defined as being in the 95th percentile.
The percentile compares youth to other people of the same age.
For example, if a three-month-old baby is in the 40th percentile of weight, it means that 40 percent of three-month-old babies weigh less than or equal to that baby.
About 58 percent of women and 68 percent of men in the UK are overweight or obese.
Obesity can escalate into conditions including type 2 diabetes, which can lead to kidney disease, blindness, and even limb amputation.
Lifting dangerous amounts of weight has also been linked to 12 different cancers.
This includes the breast, which affects one in eight women at some point in their lives.
In children, research shows that 70 percent of obese youth have high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol, putting them at risk for heart disease.
Obese children are also more likely to become obese adults.
And if children are overweight, their obesity is often more severe in adulthood.
But researchers in Saudi Arabia looked at the effects of sleeve gastrectomy, which is also offered on the NHS.
In this process, a portion of the stomach is cut down and then tied together in the shape of a ‘banana’.
The part of the stomach that releases the hunger hormone ghrelin is removed at the same time.
For the study, medics followed 2,500 obese children for ten years after they underwent the procedure.
Some participants were under the age of five and one in ten were already showing symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
Despite being given dietary and behavioral counseling for six months, the youth who received the operation struggled to lose weight.
Participants had lost about 71 percent of their excess weight a decade after surgery.
And seven out of ten children saw their type 2 diabetes reverse.
Half of the children saw their blood pressure return to normal levels, reducing their risk of heart disease.
The results also showed that 5 to 14-year-olds — a third of the participants — gained height at the same pace as older children who underwent surgery.
Dr Alqahtani said: ‘What we did in this paper is … we followed them for ten years and compared their height scores.
‘And we found that their growth is stable, there has been no change.’
But he said that when he started losing weight it changed the hormone balance in the body and lessened the pressure on the spinal cord, which helped him to grow.
He adds: ‘Long-term data is paucity and some pediatricians’ fear that bariatric surgery may affect children’s linear growth, leading to weight loss procedures for children under 14 or 15 years of age. There has been worldwide resistance.
‘Our findings offer clear evidence that should address the hesitation to perform bariatric surgery in children and young adolescents who may benefit from the operation.’
NHS England said in 2017 that severely obese children should be offered bariatric surgery after other non-invasive methods, such as diet, have failed.
Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, published in 2019, state that children and adolescents should be eligible for surgery if their body mass index (BMI) is 40 or higher, or if they have a related major health problem.
The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.