Junkfood Science: News updates: Decisions guided by fears, misinformation and insecurities

April 17, 2008

News updates: Decisions guided by fears, misinformation and insecurities

An investigative report for the Courier-Mail learned of a doctor who has performed more than a dozen bariatric surgeries on underage teens in the past year. Most disturbing, he is prepared to operate on children as young as ten years of age. Matthew Fynes-Clinton reports:

Teenagers turn to gastric banding surgery

DESPERATE Queensland teenagers are undergoing gastric banding surgery amid claims that diet and exercise programs have failed to stop the surge of child and adolescent obesity. An investigation by The Courier-Mail reveals that one surgeon at Chermside's Holy Spirit Northside Private Hospital has performed more than a dozen gastric banding procedures on patients aged 14 to 18 in the past two years.

... The surgeon, George Hopkins, said he was reluctant to perform the keyhole, laparoscopic surgery – also known as "lap-banding" – on anyone younger than 13. But Dr Hopkins said he would be prepared to operate on "exceptionally problematic" obese children as young as 10. "People scream at me, 'has it really come to this?"' the gastro-intestinal surgeon tells The Courier-Mail...

Katie Lesage, 16, who received a gastric band from Dr Hopkins last December, said she chose the surgery because she had not been "fitting in" with her peers. The Year 11 Mount Tamborine teen, who previously weighed 93kg, had since lost 7.5kg. "I wasn't fitting in with everyone. I didn't feel comfortable not being able to wear the same stuff as them (her friends) and not doing everything they do," she said....

Young people making life-altering medical decisions in response to peer pressures focusing on their appearances has concerned so many adults, it led to a new law being introduced that will prohibit cosmetic surgeries in children under the age of 18. There are no such efforts here in the U.S. As the Courier-Mail also reports:

Minors banned from cosmetic surgery, solariums

COSMETIC surgery and solarium use for young people will be banned to curb increasing pressure on teenagers to look good. The toughest new laws in the country will restrict Queenslanders under the age of 18 from going under the knife or topping up their tans in solariums. Premier Anna Bligh yesterday said the laws were aimed at purely cosmetic operations with those for medical issues such as deformities or psychological problems still allowed...

Ms Bligh said the media's focus on appearance had added to age-old pressures affecting children's confidence levels. "I appreciate this can be a difficult time, especially in a young woman's development, but to resort to a surgeon's blade is an adult response best left until one is an adult," Ms Bligh said... "We have a responsibility to ensure our youth are not resorting to surgical quick-fixes to improve their appearance and there are no cowboys in the industry preying on their vulnerabilities and insecurities."

The laws are expected to be introduced into State Parliament mid-year... The Government flagged the possibility of new laws last October after noticing a disturbing trend of doctors reporting an increase in young patients.

A New Hampshire Senator wants to mandate insurance companies pay for bariatric surgeries and force it to be a benefit on all policies.

As JFS readers probably know, health insurance mandates are laws that require all health insurance policies to cover certain procedures, whether the member needs or wants them. Of course, each mandate makes insurance more expensive for everyone. In some markets, mandates have already raised the price of policies for consumers as much as 50%, making insurance unaffordable for many. Over the last 30 years, across the country, state and federal governments have legislated more than 1,800 mandates, according to the Council for Affordable Health Insurance. Lobbyists have been busy. “For almost every health care product or service, there is someone who wants insurance to cover it so that those who sell the products and services get more business,” says CAHI. Sadly, growing numbers of mandates are for frivolous, fraudulent, unsound, ineffective, unproven to potentially dangerous things — making sound evidence-based health policies more important than ever.

While the Senator’s personal motivations are likely well-intentioned, he was the tragic victim of misinformation and scares about his own weight. According to the Nashua Telegraph, the Senator’s proposals are meeting resistance:

Weight-loss bill faces uphill battle

CONCORD – Business leaders, insurers, a medical expert and a primary opponent all ganged up on the proposal of Sen. Robert Clegg, R-Hudson, that would require insurers to cover the cost of weight-loss surgery. Clegg retold his personal story of having to pay more than $20,000 out-of-pocket in September for a gastric bypass procedure after a Boston doctor concluded he was a cancer and hypertension risk. "In essence my body was killing itself. I am not unique," Clegg told the House Commerce Committee on Tuesday at the final hearing of the bill... Doctors advised Clegg to have the bypass because it also would correct problems with his metabolism....

Clegg is seeking the Second Congressional District nomination, and fellow Republican congressional candidate Grant Bosse, who attended the hearing, claimed this policy would raise health-care costs...

Richard Lafleur, Anthem's medical director, said the procedure is too new to know the long-term impacts. He cited recent studies that concluded that while the surgery improved diabetic symptoms, it did not alter risks from high levels of cholesterol or blood pressure. "Do we truly understand what surgery is the right thing at the right time? Lafleur asked...

The Standard in St. Catherine’s in Canada, profiles the final 4 months of life of a woman after undergoing gastric bypass surgery. It reveals the personal costs of making a medical decision without the soundest evidenced-based information. [Link to full story in headline.]

The sad ending of a weight-loss struggle

Cheryl Harvey has stopped eating. She vomits white foam. Her medications have not stayed down for days...[ Her husband, Don,] takes her to Hamilton General Hospital. Doctors suspect there is something wrong with her gastric pouch, but nobody there is an expert. They send her to McMaster University Medical Centre to see a gastrointestinal specialist. It is decided Cheryl needs to go back to Humber River Regional Hospital in Toronto where she had her bypass.

When she gets there, it is determined there is indeed a problem. She has a stricture. A tightening where her small bowel joins the gastric pouch... Cheryl is operated on for a second time...Cheryl is sent home the same day... She says she can't feel her feet. They are tingling. Her left one is worse. She is afraid to stand or walk... She spends the next two nights in the Haliburton hospital. Her blood pressure is high and her vision is blurred. For a while, one eye is open, the other shut... It is decided Cheryl needs to be closer to home. Her case is complex... On Sept. 20, a Thursday, Cheryl is discharged from Haliburton hospital. There is a bed waiting for her at the Hamilton hospital...

On Saturday, her sisters, Mary Lou Ashcroft and Dorothy Hamid, pay her a visit. What they see scares the hell out of them. "She looked absolutely terrible," Mary Lou says. For the first time since her weight-loss surgery, they fear losing their sister... "We needed to determine if it was a neurological problem. We had tests scheduled."...

A blood clot took her life, 4 months and 10 days after the surgery “she hoped would save her life.” She had lost 120 pounds. “Cheryl's death is not officially considered a surgical mortality,” explained the paper. “To qualify for that statistical category, she would have had to die within 30 days of her gastric bypass.”

"It's so disappointing and so tragic when this happens," says Dr. Hagen, who performed the bypass. Despite the risks involved with the surgery, Hagen still believes it was the best option for Cheryl. "She would have died a premature death without it," he says. "She'd done spectacularly. She was right on target. But still she was morbidly obese when she died. She was the perfect patient."...

Don does not regret the surgery. Would not try to talk some other morbidly obese person out of it. "She had to do it as far as I can see," he says simply. "She was probably looking at a dead-end street the other way as well."

The deadliest falsehood of obesity.

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