When we think of childhood obesity, we tend to picture Willy Wonka’s heaviest visitor, Augustus Gloop, the first child booted from the chocolate factory after he fell into the Chocolate River while trying to drink from it. Gloop was a lazy child who binged on sweets — he always had candy in his mouth. However, while lifestyle and diet choices impact our weight, they are not the sole factors.
The causes of obesity are as myriad as its correlating afflictions. A sedentary lifestyle, food choices — or food availability and affordability, in the case of low- to lower middle-class families — to underlying medical conditions contribute to a person’s weight. For decades we’ve been fed the same recommendation: exercise more, eat less. But it’s not always that simple. If it were, the $72 billion weight loss industry — which grew $11 billion since 2010 — would have made a dent by now. Instead, like the weight loss industry’s wallet, Americans have gotten fatter.
Between 2007-08 and 2015-16, the adult obesity rate rose from 33.7% to 39.6%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rates of severe obesity also rose, from 5.7% to 7.7%. Today, nearly 5 million U.S. children and teens are severely obese, a near doubling over 20 years, the Associated Press reported. Many have already developed related health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and liver disease — costly diseases to manage.
Recent data show that pediatric obesity surgery rates have tripled in almost 20 years but still average fewer than 2,000 operations each year. And don’t mistake this as just treating the symptom — these kids aren’t undergoing liposuction and tummy tucks before going home with a lollipop in their mouth. The surgeries are metabolic- and restriction-based, both of which come with large amounts of supervision, therapy and lifestyle restructuring assistance.
These proven life-saving measures are not the go-to weight loss method doctors immediately prescribe. They are often last-ditch efforts when all else has failed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics on Sunday issued new guidance that children and teens should be eligible for surgery if their body mass index is 40 or higher, or at least 35 if they have related major health problems, according to the AP report.
We shouldn’t mistake this guidance as a directive. Pediatricians and the families they serve deserve to have as many tools at their disposal as necessary to combat health threats, and we should trust that our pediatricians have our children’s best interests at heart.