Weigh In: Should Bariatric Surgery Be Legal for Minors?

Julie Clark Robinson on 11 May 2011 at 12:00pm

We all know childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing in the United States.  Reality star/chef Jamie Oliver, Michelle Obama, Oprah and many other celebrities whose names don’t start with “O” have all raised their voices in the name of awareness.   It's common knowledge that obesity can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease and of course, a low self-esteem.

Do we want that for our kids?  Of course not.  So do we make bariatric surgery -- one of the most successful tools in weight loss for the obese -- available to them?  That’s exactly what medical professionals and parents alike are wrestling with according to the results of a recent national poll conducted by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

obese kids and bariatric surgeryThe general consensus is that obese minors should participate in at least a year of a traditional weight-loss program before even considering surgery.

Does dancing count?  You bet it does. Last month Beyonce released her new single, “Get me Bodied”,  to encourage school-age kids to not only get off their butts, but to shake them.  The music video shows the celeb icon bursting into a school cafeteria and it’s pretty much a flash mob from there out.  “A little sweat ain’t never hurt nobody,” Beyonce sings to the kids. (Really? A double negative and “ain’t” in a video aimed at school children?)

But I digress… How do you feel about bariatric surgery for people under the age of 18?  Is age the only issue or is it more complicated than that?

Photo credits: cliff1066 and calros on flickr.com

Gastric bypass before and after


Comments (6)

I agree with Dr. Rand as well. I don't think children should be getting obesity surgeries, instead they should be taught proper diet and nutrition from their parents and family.  There should be no reason that a child get to the point of obesity, unless it is stemming from a side-effect of a medication that they are on (I have friends that experienced this at a young age, causing dramatic weight gain).  I think we have all watched Maury Povich or other talk shows at one point with the parents discussing why their children were overweight.  Usually it was parents giving into behavioral issues from their children, and allowing them to eat McDonalds and pizza all day.  I have an aunt that is obese, and growing up, her kids were given Cocacola in their baby bottles.  There were so many sweets around the house it was disgusting.  I honestly thought it was child abuse, and now because of it, both children live at home and they are 26 and 30.   Self esteem issues have caused them to be afraid to leave the birds nest. :(

I aree with Richard. Although genetics plays a big role in certain African American, Latin and Native American communities, education is key to help combat it. And if parents don't learn about what they eat and what they put in their children's bodies, they are indeed responsible. But I think the real issue is for them to have access to that understanding in a way that they can apprehend and relate to, without feeling like second class citizen because they are usually the poorer class of our society. I think there is a real need for a national mobilization.
As far as the surgery goes, I think children should NOT get a bypass. Maybe a gastric band. Less invasive, and reversible. And of course pre and post diet and exercise regimen with therapy too.
I would go one farther and suggest that childhood obesity is a form of child abuse. Parents can largely control their child's diet and should be held accountable for much of the nation's obesity problem. This may sound extreme but parents should be made aware of and be held responsible for the destruction of their child's lives that comes from obesity both in its physical as well as its psychological consequences. In addition other than smoking, obesity will create a national health care crisis of huge magnitude in the near future.

I agree with Maureen. I think ANY candidate for bariatric surgery should have mandatory diet and lifestyle counselling. If they do go through with the surgery, it will only help them adjust to life after surgery.

That being said, so much about being obese as a kid is what your parents teach you (and feed you). I won't pretend that obesity is as easy as moving out of your parents' house and eating salads, but what if growing up does lead to a change in lifestyle? For that reason, I think bariatric surgery should only be a last resort for kids who have not responded to traditional obesity treatments, and the parents have to be on-board with the change too.

Tough topic. IMO, there should be strict guidelines around consideration for minors, including multiple medical opinions and adherence to traditional programs beforehand. It's tough because I know there are many kids who are in life-threatening situations as a result of their obesity.
In the end, it's like anything else- the children who go through this procedure need to have a shift in their health behaviors for it to be a long-term success