Childhood Obesity - Obesity Surgery Guide

Growing children typically have higher energy requirements than adults and will have a high food intake in order to satisfy this.  They will constantly be hungry and demand food and as long as they are doing enough physical activity then this is not a problem.

This is normal behaviour but problems can arise if the child is consuming more food than they use up.  Children enjoy sweets, chocolates, crisps and other such high fat foods and if consumed in moderation are not damaging in themselves.  The danger is however, if they are consumed on a regular basis and are combined with little or no physical activity.

Many children do put on a small amount of weight when very young.  Called ‘puppy fat', this tends to disappear when they get older and in general, is nothing to worry about.  If they engage in lots of physical activities then this weight will disappear.

Many children are physically active and as a result of this are at a healthy weight for their age.  

But, over the last twenty years things have changed and the number of children who are overweight or obese is rising steadily.  This is due to a number of factors which include the easy availability of high fat food such as sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks etc.  Fast food has become increasingly popular amongst children and in particular teenagers.  This is especially noticeable in schools where many children opt for a high fat meal although this is very often the only choice available.

Many children are taken to school by car or by public transport.  At one time children would have walked or cycled to school but this has changed as many children live further away from their school than they used to.  And, there is more traffic on the roads so parents are often reluctant to let their child cycle through a busy rush hour.

In a lot of households, both parents work and the usual routine or the ‘school run' involves the child or children being dropped off at school by car. 

Plus, many parents are concerned about crime and possible threats from strangers and are reluctant to let their child walk to school or play outside.  This means that they are confined indoors, watching television or playing computer games.

Much of this can be attributed to our changing lifestyles.  The pace of modern life has increased and children more than ever before are subject to a range of pressures.  These include constant advertising by the media who specifically target children.  Children are highly susceptible to all of this and want the ‘must have' gadgets that they are frequently shown.  These include computer games and games consoles.

What we are now seeing is a greater proportion of children inside the house watching television, using a games console such as the Xbox or spending hours on the Internet. 

Doing sport or exercise is not as attractive: many schools have reduced the amount of time dedicated to games or physical activities.  Health and safety has become an issue and schools are increasingly wary of allowing children to undertake activities for fear of litigation.  Another factor is that girls in particular are very often not interested in sport or games and often prefer to be with their friends.

This all adds up to a major health concern.  Children who are overweight or obese are likely to suffer from a range of physical and mental problems such as Type 2 diabetes and hardening of the arteries.  These are illnesses that we would commonly associate with middle age.  Children can feel very self-conscious about their appearance and can be subject to teasing or bullying by their peers.  This can lead to feelings of social isolation, anxiety and depression.

What can sometimes be the case that if an overweight child comes from an overweight family then they will have inherited their unhealthy eating habits which if not checked, will follow them into adulthood.

Weight loss surgery and children

A child with chronic weight problems would need to be seen by your G.P. to see what treatment is available.  Diet and exercise will be recommended.  Surgery is not ruled out but many experts usually advise against this due to the very young age of the child.  They argue that it can be dangerous and so should be delayed until the child is older.

However, this is not now the case and more importantly, the needs of the child are the overriding factor here.  If their quality of life is affected to such a degree that they are facing serious long term illnesses and a possible reduced life expectancy then surgery is an option. 

Gastric banding (sometimes referred to as laparoscopic gastric banding - LAGB) is the preferred option.  It is very safe and any complications which may arise are very rare.  It can be reversed and there are no risks of vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

Another plus is that it can result in up to 50% or more weight loss.

As this is a drastic step it would only be done in very exceptional situations and in agreement with your G.P and a paediatrician.