New research published Tuesday in JAMA Pediatrics showed that the number of bariatric and metabolic surgeries among U.S. youth ages 10 to 19 has risen dramatically since 2016 — even during the pandemic, when cases of adult weight-loss surgeries plummeted. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of weight-loss surgeries in this age group soared 19%.
According to CNN, childhood obesity is a large problem, affecting one in five children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Surgeries to address the issue involve altering parts of the stomach and intestines so that the body absorbs food differently and the person feels fuller, faster.
In the past, weight loss surgeries were frowned upon for younger people, resulting in fewer referral rates from pediatricians and poor insurance coverage, write the authors of the recent research paper. But “Behavioral lifestyle interventions alone do not result in long-term, clinically important weight loss among youth with severe obesity,” they write. “In 2019, an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement highlighted the need for increased adolescent access to metabolic and bariatric surgery when medically indicated.”
And earlier this year, the AAP issued its first comprehensive guideline on evaluating and treating children and adolescents with obesity. The AAP stated that more than 14 million children and teenagers in the U.S. live with a “common chronic disease that has been stigmatized for years and is associated with serious short and long-term health concerns when left untreated, including cardiovascular diseases and Type 2 diabetes.” Severe obesity, defined as a body mass index at least 20% higher than what is considered obese, is becoming even more prevalent. Pediatric experts say there is no evidence that “watchful waiting” or delayed treatment is appropriate for these at-risk individuals, according to TIME.
Sarah Messiah, director of the Center for Pediatric Population Health at the University of Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health, and co-author of the new research says that the current data shows that adolescents and their parents are interested in pursuing surgery as a treatment option for obesity.
“Many studies show that cardiometabolic disease risk factors track strongly from childhood into adulthood,” she said, and surgery is a safe and effective treatment that allows adolescents to age more healthfully.
The CDC adds that childhood obesity is more prevalent in certain populations such as Black and Hispanic youth. The recent statistics show that weight loss surgery increased more than twice as much among these populations, up 42% among Black youth and 53% among Hispanic youth between 2020 and 2021, says CNN.
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