HEALTH WATCH: Even children getting gastric by-passes

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By Michael Greger MD

WEIGHT LOSS  surgery for children and adolescents is becoming widespread and is being performed in children as young as five years old. Roux-en-Y gastric bypass is the most common type of procedure, in which surgeons cut out nearly the entire stomachBariatric surgery in pediatric patients does result in weight loss, but also has the potential for serious complications. These include pulmonary embolism, shock, intestinal obstruction,  ostoperative bleeding, leaking along the staple line, severe malnutrition, and even death at a rate of 0.5%. This means that 1 in 200 kids who go under the knife may die. Infection is identified as the leading cause of death and is most often associated with leaking of intestinal contents into the abdominal cavity.

Sometimes the surgery doesn’t work, and you have to go in and do another procedure. If that doesn’t work either, you can always try implanting electrodes into patients’ brains, a “novel antiobesity strategy” reported in the Journal of Neurosurgery.

The concept of deep brain stimulation “since its inception has been that placing an electrode somewhere in the brain could make people eat less.” You drill two little holes in the patient’s skull, snake in some electrodes a few inches, and then tunnel the wires under the scalp into a pulse generator implanted under the skin on the chest. You evidently can’t crank it up past 5 volts because it induces anxiety and nausea. But even without the nausea, people with electrodes stuck in their brains lost an average of about 10 pounds a year.

The childhood obesity epidemic is so tragic. It pains me to see insult piled on injury. Too often, medical treatments can be worse than the disease.

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