Weight loss surgery is now being offered to obese children in the UK as a “last resort” when all other attempts to lose weight have failed. Bariatric surgery for children has been available for some time in the US and Australia, but has only recently been provided in the U.K.
The bariatric surgeons who perform this operation have stressed that in order to be considered as candidates for the surgery, children must be able to understand the process including the potential risks and side-effects.
In addition to this, a child undergoing the surgery must be able to cope with the implications of bariatric surgery including diet and lifestyle changes and willingness to follow through with medical appointments.
So far, 4 children have received bariatric surgery in the UK. These young people were aged between 15 and 17, and were mature enough to cope with the demanding surgical procedure and follow-up care schedule. The parents were also involved in each case from the beginning.
The British surgeons are working out of the first specialist surgical centre for pediatric obesity in the UK, which is located in King’s College Hospital in London. The surgical procedure involves placing a gastric band or elastic across the top end of the stomach which causes the individual to feel full after eating very little food. The surgery usually results in a dramatic weight loss.
After the operation, the patient must submit to a very restricted diet, progressing from a liquid diet to pureed food, and finally solid food in very small quantities. Follow-up appointments take place every month, and exercise is also part of the strict regime. The medical care team may include nutritionists, dieticians, and psychologists as well as the bariatric surgeon.
Doctors and patients stress that this type of surgery is not a “quick fix” solution for rapid weight loss. It should only be undertaken in cases where the child’s obesity is not responding to diet and exercise, and presents considerable health risks. Children are assessed by a specialized health care team for at least 6 months, before bariatric surgery is even mentioned as an option.