I must admit my when I read the headline in the Daily Mail Health section today on weight loss surgery in children, which reports that in England, 45 procedures for weight loss, including gastric bypass, gastric banding, gastric balloon procedure, and even stomach stapling, were reported to have been performed in children younger than age 18 in the past 5 years. I could only imagine that here in the U.S., the number of such procedures performed in the same time period may be even higher! How can we as a society and any parent not be alarmed by this sad reality. I can only justify it in my mind that these must be patients who along with their families, physicians, and the involved surgeons have somehow arrived at the conclusions that no other options but such drastic measures were necessary to somehow desperately achieve some degree of health for these children. But these are CHILDREN! what happens to the digestive tract and our gut after non-reversible procedures like gastric bypass, for the next 50-70 years? or worse, what if the health of these children are so impaired that their life expectancy may be significantly reduced? What about their quality of life? What about the mal-absorption, loose stools, inability to eat more than 2-3 bites at any time, etc how can children be children and live with the consequences of what adults must endure when their life depends on it?
One must ask, would any family truly rather not have a courageous conversation with one another and practice healthier eating choices, and teach their children better eating habits, if they knew the inconceivable consequence of eventual worsening obesity is that of possible surgical intervention as described in this news story? I know that morbid obesity does not happen over night, but it can quickly happen over day after day, month after month, and year after year of habitual poor eating habits and unregulated calorie consumption such that children will be unable to change their uninhibited patterns of over consumption of sugar, fats, excessive portions, highly processed and refined foods, along with endless gallons of sugary beverages which day after day, leads to eventual morbid obesity or body mass idex of over 95%tile.
I am so proud of working at a children’s hospital whose missions prioritize education and promotion of health and wellness, including a great team under Dr. Lloyd Werks who helped to partner with our community to launch “Healthy Habits for Life at An Early Age”. He and his team are passionate in their clinical program, Healthy Choices Clinic, which works with individual patients and families to achieve health, not just weight loss. Eating is a habit and obesity results from behaviors, not just from calories.
Statistics on weight loss surgery is a sad symptom of the ever alarming and continually climbing rates of pediatric obesity, but it can’t be the answer for our children. It’s never too late. I met with Dr. Llyod’s team to understand how I can contribute, how we can partner, and how we can both best serve our patient and their families when it comes to empowering them and sharing information, instilling courage, and uncovering motivation and desire to change eating behavior and practices that will lead to lifelong success of healthy weight and healthy bodies. Every day in clinic, I have to find the courage with a parent I am meeting for the first time, and ask if they think their child is at their ideal weight. When the answer is a courageous “No”, then I know there is hope. We share a conversation about what the family think are reasons that have led to recent or not so recent excessive weight gain, and first and foremost, if they desire that something be done to improve their child’s health.
Thankfully, most families are willing to talk about it, they want physicians to listen to them about the challenges of their reality, the barriers they face when it comes to their children’s eating habits, and most of all, someone in the medical field to partner with them and help them and talk to their child.
If your child is not at his/her ideal weight, please initiate that conversation with his/her primary doctor. Please don’t give up, don’t just pretend that it’s not a problem. It is a problem, your child may be too young to appreciate the consequences of not making healthy choices, but you love them too much not to help them learn how important such choice are, each and every meal, each and every day.
Dr. Julie Wei is a pediatric ear, nose, and throat specialist and the author of A Healthier Wei. As a mother herself, Dr. Wei is a passionate advocate for improving children's health through better diet and dietary habits. She has been committed to helping parents learn how to eliminate their child's ear, nose, and throat problems simply by reducing excessive sugar and dairy intake, as well as minimizing habitual late night snacking. She hopes to raise awareness for the need for accountability by both medical professionals and parents to ensure that children are not prescribed or take unnecessary medications long term.
When she is not in the clinic, operating room, or conducting research, you will find her in the kitchen preparing food with love along with her daughter Claire. If you sit next to her on the plane, she will likely share with you information about how to minimize choking hazards in young children, and many other tips for improving your child's health.