How obesity surgery heaps injustice on top of insanity

Prepare yourself. Because today’s topic is a real smack in the face.

I can’t believe I’m even writing about this, to be honest. There are quite a few things about the following story I find deeply offensive — and ultimately, just plain unfair.

Apparently, obese white teens in this country are a lot more likely than their black or Hispanic peers to receive bariatric surgery (procedures performed on the stomach or intestines to induce weight loss, such as gastric bypass or adjustable gastric banding). This, despite the fact that minority kids are by far more likely to fall victim to our growing childhood obesity crisis.

Where do I even begin with this info?

First things first: bariatric surgery… on children?! Our obesity problem is now so severe that doctors are clearing kids — kids! — to go under the knife.

But this story ups the ante — heaping injustice on top of the insanity. Not that anyone really needed the news to point it out to them…

Of course, bariatric surgery is more prevalent in white kids. It’s the sad truth in this country that privilege affords better health care. As with most health services, those who can afford weight loss surgeries get them. And those who can’t are left to fend for themselves.

If minority kids suffer higher rates of obesity, and surgery is the new standard of care for the most severe cases, then these kids should have access to it, too — no matter how horrifying I may find the premise of it to be.

However, they don’t. At least, not as much access as their white peers. And that’s a prime example of how systemic oppression infiltrates this country’s broken healthcare system.

The fact that bariatric surgery is far from an effective “cure” for obesity doesn’t change that. But since we’re on the subject, allow me to add my two cents…

As you may know, there are several types of bariatric surgery — all of which serve to shrink the stomach so patients eat less. It’s hard to believe that current guidelines would recommend taking a measure like this in children at all. Sadly, there’s been a steady uptick in this procedure in severely obese teens.

And shamefully, these cases are becoming more common by the day. There are nearly 5 million obese kids in the U.S. today — and nearly ten percent of American children qualify as severely obese.

As a result, we’re now seeing kids with adult diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and liver disease. Which is presumably how bariatric surgery came into consideration as a reasonable option for teens with severe obesity.

Right now in the U.S., patients must have six months of failed weight loss interventions before they qualify for surgical intervention. But while that might be perfectly acceptable criteria for your average surgeon, it’s certainly not for me. Six months?! I’ve had patients struggle for years before they finally lost (and kept off) their weight.

The fact that we’re talking about teens only makes the criteria more ridiculous. Because adolescents shouldn’t be in control of everything they eat in the first place. Unless they have a job, who’s paying for the food that makes them fat? Who’s allowing them to lounge in front of the TV instead of encouraging them to go outside and get moving?

Behind every overweight child, there’s a parent in need of guidance, too. But instead of anyone addressing these issues, we’re seeing the typical American response in action — which is to skirt all responsibility for your choices, since the solution is as simple as “getting surgery” or “taking a pill.”

Is that what we want to teach our kids? I certainly don’t think so. And especially not when the so-called solution in question isn’t nearly as simple as it appears.

Bariatric surgery changes your relationship with food forever. And patients can still eat enough to gain weight back after the surgery — it happens more often than you’d think. Then what have we accomplished by taking the “easy” way out?

Nothing. Just a bunch of surgeons driving around in new cars. And a bunch of mutilated patients — many of them kids — who still don’t know how to eat. Or how to stop.