Many were shocked when they learned that a Saudi Arabian couple had had bariatric surgery performed on their morbidly obese two-and-a-half-year-old toddler, claiming that it was a sign of a medical system run amok. How could any parent in good conscience subject their child to such a dangerous experiment with unknown consequences? I disagree, however.
While there may be unknown effects from the surgery on his health and development, this is all speculative. The health issues that he will suffer due to his obesity, however, are known and are already affecting him. His knees have become bowed from the excess weight that he is carrying and he suffers from sleep apnea. In the years to come he will be at great risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type II diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis and gallstones.
Type II diabetes, especially, is becoming a growing problem among our children as obesity rates rise. And, we are now learning that bariatric surgery can control and even reverse this condition. So, it is not just a “maybe” that this surgery will help prevent future health problems for this toddler. It is very likely.
But, some have been quick to point out that maybe the parents should just put him on a diet or stop giving him so many unhealthy snacks? After all, the doctors didn’t find any medical problems to account for the boy’s obesity so it must be the parent’s fault, right? I don’t believe it’s that simple. If obesity were such a simple problem to solve, we wouldn’t be have the crisis that we are faced with today. Despite all of our best efforts to educate people about what they should be doing – eating less and exercising more – the problem is still growing. Clearly, we do not really understand the problem at all. Diets don’t work. Exercise doesn’t work. The fact is, doctors really don’t understand why obesity has become such an epidemic in the past few decades. I’m not going to judge these parents because I know that the answer does not lie in counting calories and exercising. If it did, we would all be thin here in America. We are perhaps the most diet and exercise obsessed people around.
So, what is the answer for this toddler and his family? Therein lies the crux of our problem. We really don’t know. We can only offer him the best that medical science currently has to offer, which seems to be bariatic surgery. In his mother’s shoes, I would weigh the options: Do I continue to struggle with diet and exercise, hoping that I can make it work before the boy develops even more health problems? Do I ignore my little boy’s pleas for food while my heart is wracked with guilt because he doesn’t understand why Mommy won’t soothe his hunger pangs? Or do I take the only medical solution that is being offered to me, a solution which promises a chance to return my child to health so that he can live a long and happy life? The answer seems simple to me: grab the lifeline being thrown your way and pray for the best.
Written by: Nancy Schimelpfening