There is a growing movement on the part of the bariatric surgery industry to get approval for performing weight loss surgery on children in the US--and to get insurance companies to pay for it. Currently, if a minor wants WLS, they go to Mexico and pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for the procedure. I am going to state unequivocally that I believe that performing bariatric surgery for the purpose of weight loss on children is physically and psychologically harmful, and its approval in the US could lead to disturbing social implications. Because this topic is so involved, and so important, I am going to break it up into separate articles dealing with the various factors.
Physical health is the most tangible reason to oppose WLS for kids. Disturbingly, while it is potentially very physically harmful, WLS is frequently regarded as necessary for a fat person's health. Fat people are told that they will die unless they get bariatric surgery. Parents are told that their fat children will die before they grow up unless they receive bariatric surgery. Not only is this just plain bullshit, it's deadly bullshit.
First, there's the possibility of death and complications arising from the surgery itself. I am not going to rehash everything that Sandy wrote, but I want to say this: Considering that nearly five out of every one hundred people who get bariatric surgery die within a year afterwards--five people that would have been alive a year later (barring accidents and other random factors) had they not been convinced that it was better to be dead than to be fat. Maybe an adult can make the decision to take that risk for his or her own life, but allowing a child to take that risk is abominable.
Let me put this very, very simply: Children are not going to die "of fat" before they reach the age of consent.
"But, Rio, what about the 300-lb eight year olds we heard about on the news?"
What about them? For a kid that age to be that size, there has to be an underlying factor that caused them to be that size. Bariatric surgery is NOT going to solve that problem, and will likely just complicate their health problems further. Why are doctors so eager to carve children up and wreck their digestive tracts instead of, oh, I don't know, testing them for celiac disease, hormone problems, kidney disease (which can cause fluid retention--no amount of bariatric surgery will stop you from retaining water), or any number of issues that can cause abnormal weight gain? And if the child is found to be healthy, then why are we chopping out healthy stomachs because the children aren't the "right" body size?
So, let's set aside the problem of WLS itself being inherently dangerous, and the reluctance of doctors to see past fat tissue and find real medical conditions, and think about growing children.
Kids grow. At least, they should--and if they aren't growing, most people would regard that as a serious problem. Children who has been malnourished are often stunted and have developmental problems. Girls who don't get enough to eat often don't have periods, because their bodies are trying to conserve energy for survival purposes, saving their lives during a famine so they can reproduce when there is plenty of food. Also, if adult WLS recipients have a high rate of osteoporosis (and they do), then what do you think happens to children whose bones are still growing? Do we need to induce beriberi, chronic vomiting, peripheral neuropathy, and malnutrition, all possible consequences of WLS, in children?
Next, I want to tell you that you are a fathead. No, really: Your brain contains a great deal of fatty tissue--about three pounds of it, in fact. The neurons in your brain have protective sheaths made of fatty tissue, and that's just a part of the fat content up there. Research is indicating that deficits of certain fatty acids in the brain (DHA, for example) can lead to mental imbalance, brain diseases, and impared cognitive ability (that means lower IQ, y'all). Babies who are breast-fed get more fatty acids in their diet, and studies indicate that they tend to have higher IQs and better problem-solving ability.
Your brain, all by itself, has the capacity to burn up to 2000 calories per day. (Edited to add: That is a high estimate, please read comments) Imagine, then, a young person who has undergone WLS: They are not only getting enough food to fuel the continuing growth of their brains, they aren't even getting enough for proper functioning of their brains. How do we expect them to learn and grow on the miniscule amount of calories a WLS recipient can ingest? I suppose, however, given the current climate of "Intelligence isn't important; only people with perfect bodies have any value", having underdeveloped and undernourished brains isn't considered to be a negative thing.
Long story short, the physical risks of performing WLS on people who are still growing and learning are much too high to warrant the relatively superficial benefits. Kids aren't going to die from being fat if they don't get WLS, and any doctor who says otherwise is looking to make a buck off of the parents. Kids do have a serious increase in their risk of dying young if they get WLS, though, and that should be enough to convince parents to say NO to WLS for their kids. It isn't, though, and that's why I will continue on with this series. Next up:
Psychological health concerns.