Call for tax-cash for kids' obesity ops

Call for tax-cash for kids’ obesity ops
16 April 2006

Surgeons want taxpayers to pay for weight-loss surgery for children as one solution to New Zealand’s ballooning obesity epidemic.

Obesity among children is becoming a major problem. Starship Children’s Hospital in Auckland recently treated a 12-year-old weighing 182kg and often sees adolescents over 100kg. One in 10 Kiwi kids is obese but no publicly funded surgery -such as a lap-band operation which reduces the stomach size or gastric bypass - is available to treat them.

Surgeons say other children are being bumped from surgery in favour of obesity-related cases.

“In one month alone we had three cases where we probably ended up cancelling eight kids to do more urgent (obesity-related) surgery,” said Wellington paediatric surgeon Brendon Bowkett. One child was five and weighed 52kg.

Obese children often have alarming adult conditions including type-2 diabetes, heart disease, gall bladder infections, obstructive sleep apnoea, hip problems, and skin abscesses.

Surgical treatment is a last resort. Only a handful of adults are given publicly-financed gastric bypass surgery, which costs about $20,000. So far only a few 15-year-olds have had the operation, but paediatric surgeons say children could benefit too. America has paediatric surgeons dedicated to obesity surgery and in Australia, an estimated 50-60 children as young as 12 have had lap-band surgery.

Surgeons agree diet and exercise are the best way to combat excess kilos, but losing 50-100kg is often unachievable.

“It appears if you’ve got a person who’s morbidly obese at 12 or 13, you’ve got a body that’s programmed to be overweight,” Bowkett said.

Starship surgeon Phillip Morreau is helping draft guidelines for the operations - known as bariatric surgery - for the Australasian Society of Paediatric Surgeons.

“Unfortunately there are many children who are dying or faced with severe (health) limitations (because they are obese).” He had “a number” of patients lined up - about a dozen a year - who would benefit from the surgery.

But surgical treatment for children could be complicated by underlying psychological, endocrine and metabolic disorders. Their diet was also controlled by adults around them, and they could find it hard to change their diet after the operation.

Surgeons needed to carefully consider how they would select patients, and whether surgery was the best treatment, Morreau said.

He hoped the surgery would be available by the end of the year.

Bowkett believed there was no option but to provide obesity surgery for children.

Surgeons plan to present their proposal to the select committee into obesity and Bowkett said it was crucial it was funded on need.

They argue any cost would be a sliver of the lifetime of health costs from obesity-related health problems.

But Wellington gastroenterologist Richard Stubbs said the surgery was inappropriate for children. “It’s not because I don’t think there’s a huge problem, and it’s not because I don’t think they deserve it, it’s because I don’t think it’s appropriate for them.”

Bariatric surgery came with some negatives, such as strict diet and required motivation that children lacked. They could over-eat and suffer side effects.

“To put a lap-band into a child is to give them a whole heap of trouble and invite rebellion.”

This makes me absolutely furious. :mad: :mad:

Parents would face abuse charges if their children were under fed and suffered malnutrition yet we have calls for surgery to fix obesity. There is no quick fix and it is a complex issue but I would rather the dollars go into preventitive programs which are currently done on a shoestring budget. :mad: :mad:

End of rant.