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Obesity Surgery for Kids as Young as 11 Years Old? Doctor, Please!

Early in February it was reported in the UAE that desperate mums and dads are turning to specialist surgeons to help their overweight offspring, even with costs running at $10,000 US. Many parents said they felt pressured into it by the children!

In 2004, Packard Children's Hospital became the first children's hospital in California to offer bariatric surgery to adolescents. It remains one of the few children's hospitals in the U.S., and the only one on the West Coast, to provide this treatment to adolescents but its patient list is growing to worrying levels and more hospitals will surely follow with this treatment for overweight kids. It's estimated roughly 220,000 people underwent weight loss surgery last year in the U.S. but many suffer from nutritional failings after.

Malnutrition and vitamin defficiency is very common as the body can absorb less food than it was designed to and one can only imagine the effects of this on a still growing child. Last week a hospital in the Middle East confirmed that it too had begun regularly conducting bariatric surgery on obese kids as young as 11 years old, despite claims by other medics that the procedure is not suitable for under-18s.

Bariatric surgery (weight-loss surgery) includes a variety of procedures performed on people who are obese. Weight loss is achieved by reducing the size of the stomach with a gastric band or through removal of a portion of the stomach (sleeve gastrectomy or biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch) or by resecting and re-routing the small intestines to a small stomach pouch (gastric bypass surgery).

Early in February it was reported in the UAE that desperate mums and dads are turning to specialist surgeons to help their overweight offspring, even with costs running at $10,000 US. Many parents said they felt pressured into it by the children!

One cosmetic surgery clinic is said to have operated on about 20 obese children this year already, and claims adolescent bariatric surgery is now "very well established" across the globe. One surgeon said "Bariatric surgery can be the only hope for morbidly obese teenagers who will eventually end up with severe disability otherwise. Bariatric surgeons all over the world, including us in the UAE, are performing bariatric surgery on patients under the age of 18 according to international protocols and guidelines - and the outcomes of the operations are literally phenomenal."

He said that "more than 90 per cent" of obesity surgery cases at his hospital were middle east nationals. He added that there is even a hospital in Saudi Arabia - another nation with huge obesity problems - that will operate on grossly overweight children under the age of 10.

But only if they have "metabolic disorders that make them really obese". There are about seven bariatric surgery facilities in the middle east "a handful" of which will perform the procedure on patients under the age of 18.

Should kids as young as 11 be allowed or even encouraged to go under the knife? Is there an easier solution? Could it be that more and more young people are just lacking in stimulation to be more active and eat healthily and so hiding their unfulfilled lives (adults too!) by excess snacking or grazing. Do they comfort eat because the world is turning into a theme park of itself, what is an authentic experience nowadays? Where can one go these days to enjoy a genuine experience? How many families regularly go to the beach together to run and play anymore? Any form of exercise can be a real challenge for kids who aren't used to it just as it is for an adult if you haven't done any in a long time but when results like feeling and looking better start to come you will learn to love it. After a short time, you will find that you have far better, happier and more productive days when you exercise than when you don't. Trips to the beach help family bonding too.

The whole of our culture, the whole of our lives in fact appear to be being taken over more and more by 'simulated' experiences on so many levels, a filtered down and dissipated version of the particular experience so that our lives are becoming theme parks of lives rather than actual lives. Each of these experiences is usually wrapped up in some kind of huge company marketing strategy promoting some other product or service that we will feel pressured to purchase in case we're missing out or just not keeping up with the neighbours.

This concept is particularly successful with children of course, who don't have the critical faculties to truly make decisions made on solid facts but on a kind of teenage angst of being 'left out' if they don't pursue the next gadget, game, novelty or what not. They can't separate easily the culturally valuable stuff from the contrived packaging with hidden and usually dubious agendas behind the products. The instant gratification society that so many young people appear to live in and which we have allowed big corporations to create needs to change or horror stories like obesity surgery on children will just continue to escalate. Children need to be stimulated and challenged as well as educated in order to be happy just like adults.

The poet Anne Bradstreet wrote; "If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome".

She's talking about hard work for reward or gifts given only when one is old enough to appreciate them. I've given up counting how many children I have seen less than 8 years old with their own mobile phones, walking through Malls, texting away as they browse for Grand Theft Auto Platinum Edition or whatever. Fast texting, fast gaming and fast food go hand in hand. Most Kids also it appears know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. With more fast food outlets opening every day things are unlikely to change.

In the final analysis though, how can any child truly emasculate a responsible parent into buying them surgery? Its one thing for a child lacking in discipline or appreciation to demand of anxious-to-please parents for a brand new pair of Nike trainers now, or the latest mobile phone now but just stop for a second, Mom, I want to be slimmer through surgery now? Doctor please?!

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