Saving Obese Children Surgically?

obese-youngsters-children-body fat

This Sunday’s New York Times has an article that took my breath away. It follows the journey of a teenage girl who opts for the lap band in order to cure her of morbid obesity. The story is heart wrenching in every way, from the sad fact that a teenage girl would weigh close to 300 pounds to the ultimate failure of the device and our medical system.

Currently Allergan is trying to get the FDA to to allow it to market the Lap-Band to patients as young as 14. This is a phenomenal disaster in so many ways I’m not quite sure where to begin.

The Lap-Band restricts the size of the patient’s stomach so that they feel full. It’s not a surgery without risk but of course the folks who are getting the Lap-Band are already at risk for a host of terribly debilitating and life threatening diseases. The Lap-Band isn’t about getting cute, it’s a medical Hail Mary.

In restricting the size of a patient’s stomach, the Lap-Band also restricts a patient’s ability to get nutrition. Lap-Band recipients are told to take vitamins, but because of the size of their stomachs the vitamins are very uncomfortable to swallow. I have a hard time swallowing vitamins and I assure you I have the palate of a billy goat and a rather average sized stomach.

There are countless stories about Lap-Band patients and their misery post operatively. Common sense dictates that when someone needs to lose half their body weight it’s a medical issue, a behavioral issue and a psychological issue. A 45 minute surgery is more of an introduction to the solution than it is an ending.

It is alarming that Allergen would seek to make Lap-Bands available to 14 year olds. It is not alarming that Allergen wants to do business with teens. Allergen is a business and it operates to please it’s shareholders. What is alarming that there is a growing market for Lap-Bands with teens both literally and figuratively.

As I mentioned before Lap-Bands are the Hail Mary of medicine. When a patient gets a Lap-Band that means that diets, therapy, exercise, and behavior modification have failed. The tremendous risk of surgery is overshadowed by the risk of diseases such as diabetes and heart failure.

Every parent, educator and ally of children should be wondering how we can affect change so that 14 year olds never need to lose half their body weight. Every lawmaker who thinks they can cut physical education out of the school day needs to know that it’s going to cost our country hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat those children who are unable to work and who will require medical care that healthy sized folks don’t require. Every school board that serves crap lunches should know that they’ve effectively slapped every child in the face, hard, when they serve them dubious food.

Every time high fructose corn syrup (or Corn Sugar) is added to a food it should have a surgeon general’s warning on it much like a pack of cigarettes. This will attack your liver and send your pancreas into a tailspin. Your body doesn’t know what to do with this much sucrose.

And every time we tell ourselves that a ten year old has “baby fat” and then we reward him with a Snickers Bar we should be ashamed. Because it hurts our kids. It’s Munchausen’s by Twinkie.

It’s entirely possible that your breakfast cereal has more sugar in it than your homemade cake or cookies.

It’s probably not good medicine to give Lap-Bands to teenagers, but Allergan isn’t their parent. Let’s please look at articles like this and be shocked into doing something good for our kids, all of our kids.

If these kids feel ashamed for being fat we should all feel shame for making them that way.

Facebook Comments

  • I completely agree with many of your points – especially high fructose corn syrup, my own personal evil that I eradicated from my house and diet along with a few other “ingredients” that find their way into processed food. I wish today’s children were taught so much more, from nutrition to physical exercise. That said, I caution you against glossing over Lap-Band surgery as a 45 minute procedure. While I”m sure there are doctors who don’t put much thought into anything but the procedure, I know most doctors performing these types of surgeries work hand in hand with nutritionists, psychologists and internists to try and help the patient with both the issue of the weight as well as how the weight got there. To insinuate otherwise does a disservice to those who used surgery as a tool (granted a serious one) in their eventual success in overcoming their weight & the issues that caused them to get there in the first place.

    We owe everyone (kids and adults) more when it comes to learning the building blocks of a healthy body, but we can’t dismiss the tools that help those that missed the lesson the first few times around.

  • Dana

    I can’t think of another issue that makes my blood boil as furiously as the obesity epidemic, especially among children. And yet its an issue about which I essentially feel muzzled because the vast majority of people are unwilling to accept the reality, let alone address it. Good for you, you’re braver than me.

  • The link to the NY Timees story doesn’t work. This is an interesting article, but I don’t understand what swallowing has to do with the size of your stomach. My youngest has been swallowing pills since she was about 2 years old, and I’m guessing – since she only weighed about 20 pounds (yes – at 2!), that her stomach was much smaller than mine. Once the pill is swallowed, I get, but not while in the act of swallowing.

    • I fixed the link. 

      I’m not sure about the swallowing, but I do know that folks who have this surgery have to sip everything, no gulping. Maybe the entry way to the stomach is reduced in size? 

      Again, I’m not sure, but it was mentioned in the NYT article and several other places. 

  • I think we’ve become inured to threats, it seems that action is only taken when we are actively in peril. That we are talking about children in peril incenses me. I don’t want to dictate what people buy at the store or what they feed their children, but if we hear of a comparable diet being fed to a dog chained in a pen, we’d rally against it. 

    Children are defenseless. A basic responsibility of parents should be to keep children within acceptable measures. Not stick thin, not eating an exclusively organic diet, but not needing medical intervention before high school.

    Tragic. 

  • What’s the difference between a comment and a reaction?  And I agree on all points.  Which is why I’m yearning for pancakes this morning, but eating egg whites.  Which aren’t really food.  More like solidified, formerly viscous, tasteless boogers.  Sigh.

    • ooh I have THE SOLUTION for horrible egg white breakfasts. First sautee mushrooms and onions, you don’t need any oil because the mushrooms will bleed, then add egg whites and scramble. So yummy in spite of the fact that the best part of the egg is missing. 

  • Jane

    The company you’re attacking is called Allergan — not Allergen. Allergen is a substance that causes an allergic reaction. To quote Bob Dylan, “know your song well before you sing it.”
    Or you just sound like an idiot.

  • I don’t even know where to begin.  This is an overwhelming problem.  Yes, school lunches are to blame.  Yes, budget cuts that strip away PE are a problem.  Parents must be held accountable for what their kids are eating.  I know my girls sneak more crap than I’m comfortable with, but I know they have a good foundation and no weight issues so far.  Food companies that push their seductive wares are responsible.  And the government that hasn’t outlawed hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn sweeteners needs to step up (thank you Michelle Obama for pushing this agenda). 

    The Lap Band for teenagers?  Good God.  This is not the answer.  No, no.  Absolutely not.  What will this do to their bodies as they are developing?  This is completely insane.

    Thanks for bringing this issue to light.  I think my next post is just going to be a list of incredibly stupid things that hurt people and makes me really angry.

  • I too read this article … prevention is key and what to do about the current obesity in children is a problem that will of course not easily be solved. Investing in our children is an investment in all of our futures…their lifespans will be cut short if something does not change the current obesity picture.
    Now as a healthcare professional I question the ethics and medical professionalism of any doctor who performs this type of surgery on a child…diet and exercise with a lifestyle change is the only sure way to keep weight under control. So problematic…we need to fund education, exercise and make healthy foods available and “police” the promotion of unhealthy foods to kids in school and in the media. Not easy and not popular…

    • Nothing worth doing is ever easy.

      It’s just mind blowing that we’re having this discussion at all.

  • Your sentence “This is a phenomenal disaster in so many ways I’m not quite sure where
    to begin” really sums it up.  I agree that overly sweetened processed foods are indeed one of the causes of obesity in children…along with excess intake of all other processed fatty/salty food, high density of fast food in poor neighborhoods, excessive time spent sitting in front of screens, and adults who work so many hours they don’t have time/energy to make healthy family mealtime a priority or be active with their kids.  This is a multi-factorial problem that needs to be addressed from all angles.  Great post.