Weight-loss surgery has become so common that it’s no longer news—unless it’s a two-year-old having the procedure.
A Saudi Arabian family opted to send their 79-pound toddler—weighing as much as the average 11-year-old boy—under the knife to have as much as 85 percent of his stomach permanently removed. According to a CNN article, the morbidly obese boy's family attempted to control his eating habits two separate times. When both diets failed, doctors approved the operation. Though the child wasn't at risk of death, he did potentially face future pain, injuries, bowed legs, heart disease, diabetes, and serious complications from his sleep apnea.
Alarmed doesn't even begin to describe the world's reaction to this news of the youngest person to ever undergo weight-loss surgery. But American parents can take some solace that this scenario would likely never play out in the U.S. While about 17 percent of kids and teens age 2 to 19 are obese, there's a protocol in place to protect them.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics put out an official statement on gastric bypass surgeries saying that it is not to be done before age 15 for girls and 16 for boys,” says Michael Nusbaum, M.D., medical director at the Obesity Treatment Centers of New Jersey. “If you do this surgery too early, you can stunt bone development because children end up with nutrition deficiencies."
While the U.S. pediatric community hasn't released a statement on laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy, the procedure performed on the Saudi Arabian toddler, Nusbaum is certain that it would also impede normal child development. “I'm personally opposed to any child getting bariatric surgery under the age of 15,” he says. “This particular case is extremely controversial. I would be hard-pressed to find any surgeon in the U.S. who does this surgery and would agree that it's the right thing to do.”
Nusbaum adds that patients need to understand the scope of the surgery before undergoing it. “You need to hold off on most of these surgeries until you have a child who is mature enough to make decisions which will potentially affect them for the rest of their lives.”
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