If you could outfit your child with a device that physically prevents them from smoking a cigarette, would you? How about a contraption that prevents their car from exceeding the speed limit, or maybe some sort of modern day chastity belt that prevents them from having unprotected sex? What about something that latches right onto their brain that prevents them from doing anything remotely stupid and life threatening? If it is in the name of protecting their quality of life and, in some cases, preserving longevity, couldn’t you manage justifying a little modification?
Many parents, as well as their children struggling with staggering obesity issues, are basically electing for a sort of obesity “out” (albeit, not an easy one) utilizing one of the two popular gastric surgeries to drastically curb food consumption, weight gain and obesity. Gastric Bypass surgery, a popular option that closes off part of the upper part of the stomach to form a small pouch, and the alternative option Gastric Banding which is an implant device with similar results (click on this New York Times graphic for more info) have become reasonable options for many children and teens looking at a lifetime of health issues caused by obesity. Both of these devices limit the amount of food one is able to consume in a single meal because the stomach capacity is greatly reduced. The results of both of these procedures tend to be positive and sometimes drastic with often more than a 40 percent weight reduction in the recipients of the surgery, but weight loss tends to slow over time.
There are also complications that come from these two surgeries, like intestinal leakage, bowel obstruction, and various nutritional deficiencies. Recipients of this surgery must adhere to strict nutritional and activity guidelines in order to avoid severe complications. This sort of discipline is often in short supply even among the most dedicated teenager.
Some researchers fear that as this sort of weight-loss surgery gains momentum for children and teens, some doctors will elect to operate on patients who should not have the surgery, and would be better suited to less radical measures. There also remains a concern that such successes, even if they remain with the severely obese, will detract from national efforts to improve nutrition, combat obesity, and promote exercise. In essence, by embracing this option, are we effectively giving up on the children who struggle with these severe weight problems and telling them they cannot change?
We still do not know what the long-term effects of this surgery might be (a gastric band might need to be in place for some 70 years on some of the younger recipients). Complications and medical scares aside, is there something a bit off about embracing this severe option? Sure there are candidates who are morbidly obese that will not likely live to see their 30s, but they are in the minority. With roughly 40 percent of the country’s population overweight, what sort of message are we sending with our advocacy of these procedures? Do the immediate improvements from these two procedures justify altering a child’s digestive system, probably for life?