Tax Dollars Paying for a Teenager’s Unsuccessful Weight Loss Surgery

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bariactricsurgerybariactricsurgery Image Credit: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

An article in the New York Times: Young, Obese and in Surgery has really started to make me think about the ways our tax dollars are spent on healthcare. We are allowing our children to be subjected to risky surgeries and forcing them to make decisions that they are truly too young to realize the full implications of. This article has also has increased my awareness on how we are always looking for a quick fix to lifelong problems.

No Magic Bullet

Well, there is this magic bullet, but that’s an entirely different rant for another blog post another day.

But there is no magic bullet for being overweight. There is no quick fix for obesity. No magic procedure. No easy way out. The road to healthy living at an ideal weight is a long and arduous one that takes hard work and commitment, and unfortunately we are lazy.

In matters of weight loss surgery, the statistics for regaining the weight are staggering. My very own father had a gastric bypass, lost over 200lbs, and gained most of it back. How and why? He never addressed the emotional factors that originally made him overweight and he slowly stretched his stomach out to it’s pre-surgery size.

Weight loss and maintenance requires constant work and a complete lifestyle change.

Bariatric surgeries (which include the lap band that this teenager underwent, as well other various procedures) do not address the underlying problems that have caused teenagers and others become and stay overweight to begin with. The psychological and emotional factors that contribute to being overweight need to be addressed before over $20,000 of tax money is spent on a “quick fix” that in this case, as well as many others, has been ineffective in helping this teenager improve her overall health.

Risking Lives, Wasting Money, and Increasing Risk of Future Surgeries

Depending on the type of bariatric surgery that is performed, the death rate is still as much as 1%. Another 20% will require some sort of additional surgery relating to a complication of the original procedure. In the case of the article and the teenager who underwent the surgery, not only was it ineffective, she now will run the risk of lifelong complications from the lap band she received. She  has now aged out of the Medicaid system and has no health insurance and no means of continuing follow-up health care.

The healthcare she really needs, and what would have been a much better use of the $20,000 paid for by Medicaid, through our tax dollars, would have bent in psychological treatment for the underlying emotional reasons that contributed to her obesity. She obviously was not mature enough to emotionally face this surgery since right before going under the knife she shares a joke with a friend through a text message which stated “We’re not fat. We’re professional eaters. Why should we be punished for our profession?”  If this isn’t a clear sign of her unhealthy emotional relationship with food, I don’t know what is.

Long term management of her overall health would be a much better approach than a risky quick-fix lap band surgery. Many many not agree, but a health club or gym membership would be much less costly and far more beneficial to her overall health in the long run. These are medical treatments that in addition to abiding by the Hippocratic oath  to do no harm.

Pediatricians Encouraging Bariatric Surgery?

I am disappointed that there are pediatricians encouraging teenagers to participate in weight loss surgery. For adults weight loss surgery should be a final option after weighing all negative outcomes and possibilities. These are decisions and life choices that are hard for many adults to deal with the consequences of. How can we expect children and those so inexperienced with the ways of the world and their own bodies to be able to handle the emotional and physical complications brought on by bariatric surgery?

Food is a Cheap Antidepressant

In tough economic times, where many have little health insurance and even less access to healthcare, it is not surprising that America is obese. Food is a cheap antidepressant. It is a fix for the stress and the problems that many encounter in their everyday lives. Exercise is a burden and a hassle for most. It’s not a surprise that as poverty increases and unemployment stays elevated, so do our waistlines.

Inappropriate Weight Loss Surgery

I firmly believe that using tax dollars to pay for the bariatric surgery of children is careless and frivolous spending in tough economic times.Not only is it wasteful, it’s actually detrimental to overall health.In order to provide the best possible care for patients like Ms.Gofman, a holistic approach to the overall well-being of an individual must be taken. The nursing process encourages taking a look at the entire person, emotional and physical, the medical process does not.

In the case of the Shani Gofman, the surgery appears to have done more harm than good. The emotional damage that she now faces because of her self-admitted weight loss failure were brought out by what, in my humble opinion, was a surgery that was inappropriate and should never have been considered as a treatment for her. She even admits that originally she did not want the surgery and only eventually gave it. Shame of the doctor who put the idea in her head. Without the safety net of the lap band in her head, who knows how successful Ms. Gofman might have been in her own attempts to loose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle?

What’s next?

I’ve recently heard of children being taken away from their parents by the state because of they are overweight. Now I’m reading about children undergoing lap band surgery. What is next in our attempt to combat this epidemic of obesity in our youth? We have to do something to combat the obesity that is on the rise in our children, but I do not think these are the answers.

So what can we do to help our children grow into healthy adults that doesn’t involve invasive procedures and removing them from their families?

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  1. Chris says

    So what can we do to help our children grow into healthy adults that doesn’t involve invasive procedures and removing them from their families?

    Easy! Stop buying all that junk food you see at your local grocery store and become aware of all the chemicals we have in our processed foods.

    I’m always amazed when I go shopping and I see parents with all kinds of junk foods for their kids; the most horrific part is when I see kids with bottles of sodas or diet sodas. A soda here and there might not be bad, but drinking that stuff every day will definitely get you a few extra pounds.

    And let’s not forget about those burger joints that seem to make up the staple diet of many families. Simple awareness of all these junk foods would go a long way. Unfortunately, companies do a good job in advertising their products, so another solution might be reducing tv time. Ouch! :D

  2. says

    Provocative storyline and comment. I so agree that there is no magic bullet and healthier eating options make perfect sense.

    I’d add that “we” should look at underlying emotional and social issues that lead to obesity. Safe and loving childhoods, enough money to buy healthy food…that kind of stuff.


  3. says

    I applaud your writing about this. It is a troubling issue to be sure. How to balance what the public wants with what is the right thing to do? I have worked in a number of medical centers in which the question has arisen of whether or not to embark on weight loss surgery in adolescents. In each case we have decided NO. ITs not easy. As parents and children start to DEMAND the quick fix, what happens? They will leave the environs of the major pediatric medical center that has specialists to evaluate children and work with them from an emotional as well as a physical standpoint to someone else who is willing to do the surgery. And there will always be someone will to perform the surgery.

    Adolescents, in my opinion, are simply not prepared to make such a decision, or to evaluate the implications of what happens if it doesn’t work. However, some have argued that for SOME who already are having trouble breathing or are so overweight they can’t move, the procedure might be life saving, if… and its a pretty big IF- If there is a comprehensive program in place preoperatively.

    This should include evaluation by a psychologist and ethicist in addition to the standard nutritionist and exercise physiologist or physical therapist. Follow up with the whole team must be assured. The family must agree to change its eating habits, since it is rarely one child alone who is obese. Most pediatric surgeons I know have refused to embark on this path. They know it is not the right thing to do. Some adult bariatric surgeons know that physiologically an adolescent is not going to be difficult to perform the actual surgery upon. But they do not consider the specific level of maturity of the child. I do not know the details of the case you presented, but I agree that this was not the right approach for this person.

    I also completely agree that we have lost sight of personal accountability, such as parents learning to say no out of love for their child. Of course the parent is responsible for the actions of their child–whether that is habitual overeating, cheating in school, or shooting someone, but many parents don’t see it that way. I believe that is why the states have started to intervene where they would not have dared 20 years ago.

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