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February 20, 2014

Bariatric Surgery for Kids?

by Anne Paddock

The Wall Street Journal ran an article this week entitled “As World’s Kids Get Fatter, Doctors Turn to the Knife” by Shirley S. Wang who reported that children as young as 3 years old are being considered for weight-loss surgery in Saudi Arabia. Seems that the rates of overweight and obese children age 5 and under are rising in much of the world but rising faster in developed countries, including Saudi Arabia. Why? That’s the million dollar question with the answer alarmingly apparent.

Admittedly, I was horrified reading the article but I’m not writing this post to criticize the Wall Street Journal or Ms. Wang; shooting the messenger is not the answer (although Ms. Wang could have included additional information on diet and specifically the health benefits of a plant-based diet). The parents and the doctors advocating such a radical approach to a problem that can be solved through diet and lifestyle choices, are at fault. Citing Middle East culture in which parents may not know what their children are eating because nannies and cooks are feeding their children, the Saudi lifestyle in which fast food is readily available in air-conditioned malls, limited physical activity where gym class is limited to once a week, and indulgent parenting practices – especially for boys – is, to be blunt…a cop-out and a disservice to the children these adults are responsible for.

Years ago, I read a book called Owen written by Kevin Henkes which was about a 5-year old’s determination to do what he wanted and how his parents chose to handle him. Hilarious and oh so true, Henkes showed the reader there are alternative skills that parents can use to satisfy both the child, the parent, and the world in which a child must find his or her place. Certainly there are children born with a propensity to be heavy but allowing these children to eat fatty, sugary, and processed foods is not the answer, even if they cry. As Owen’s parents learned, indulgent parenting is not good for anyone, least of all the child.

Children learn life-long behaviors during their early years so there is no better time to demonstrate good eating  habits, offer healthy choices (whole grains, brown rice, beans, nuts, and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables), and promote exercise than when these kids are young. It’s not easy but if parents want to see their children live a healthy life, there really isn’t any other choice. Having a toddler undergo bariatric surgery (which incidentally comes up as “barbaric” in a spell check) to permanently remove part of his or her stomach in hopes of reducing his appetite and weight, is not the answer.

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