Concerned over the increasing craze among youth for lap-band surgery, the Australian surgeons have ruled firmly that the surgery is off limits for those below 15 years of age.
The policy guidelines on bariatric surgery for adolescents released by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) said, "The College recommends this type of surgery only be considered in adolescents 15 years and over, with a body mass index above 35 and who have had a range of complications from severe obesity. They should have gone through puberty and only then laparoscopic gastric banding (lap banding) should be considered, as it is a completely reversible procedure."
RACP Fellow Professor Louise Baur, chair of the working party which developed the policy, said, "Bariatric surgery is not an easy option, but rather part of a comprehensive ongoing management strategy for adolescents with life-threatening obesity as they transition to adult care."
She stressed, "It's important to understand these new procedures are no 'quick fix... Young people suffering severe obesity require high quality clinical services. "With very few exceptions, people don't intend to put on huge amounts of weight.
"We need to protect young people from hasty measures, and the wider community needs to understand that some forms of bariatric surgery are irreversible and therefore have lifelong implications.
"The College recommends that bariatric surgery only be carried out by experienced bariatric surgeons as part of an holistic approach. Ongoing medical treatment needs to be provided by a team of clinicians, including doctors, nurses, dieticians, clinical psychologists and exercise scientists."
"We also want the policy recommendations to serve the people who most need it, and to guide clinicians as they work with families and young people as to how to manage this issue of obesity.
"There is generally a strong genetic predisposition to obesity. This, together with broader environmental issues affecting food and physical activity in our society, has resulted in two out of three men, one in two women and one in four adolescents being affected by overweight and obesity.
"Once you have established weight problems, our body adjusts to that weight which then becomes a new set point. This then makes it more difficult to lose weight - a particular problem for people with severe obesity. One of the aims of this policy launch is to help people understand these issues," she commented.
Ethics of Obesity was one of the sessions featured at the World Congress of Internal Medicine (WCIM) being held in Melbourne from 20 - 24 March, 2010.
The new policy was developed in conjunction with, and is also endorsed by, the Australia and New Zealand Association of Paediatric Surgeons, and the Obesity Surgery Society of Australia and New Zealand.