Health experts and paediatricians have been shocked by news that children as young as 11 are to receive gastric balloons on the NHS in a drastic effort to solve obesity problems.
The device, which will be given to children whose obesity has created health risks such as weight-related diabetes or sleep apnoea (where neck fat can stop breathing),works in a similar way to gastric bands, reducing the stomach's capacity by filling it with a silicone air balloon.
Obesity experts fear that subjecting children who are not fully grown to this kind of major surgery could pose health risks of its own.
Professsor David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: "It is a desperate situation when we have come to this.
"One has to ask if it can be right to subject children and young teenagers to the trauma and discomfort of having a gastric balloon fitted."
Potential side effects include nausea, vomitting, perforation of the stomach lining and, in extreme cases, if the balloon gets dislodged and passes into the gut it could be fatal.
Another risk is the psychological impact, as consultant psychiatrist, John Morgan, from the Yorkshire Centre for Eating Disorders pointed out.
"A quarter to a fifth of [stomach surgery] patients have bad outcomes, particularly if they have a history of binge-eating, bulimia, depression, or even anorexia.
"If you're eating because of a need in your brain rather than a need for stomach satiety signals, then having your stomach reduced is not going to solve that," he said.
The procedure costs between £2,000 and £7,000 and patients can expect to lose around three stone, with youngsters also receiving cognitive lifestyle therapy to stop them putting the weight back on when the balloon is removed after six months.
Sheffield Children's Hospital is planning to run a trial of the treatment on 15 "high-risk" obese children in Easter next year, but if successful the treatment, which isn't recommended by NICE, may be offered to more of the 900,000 British children classed as obese.
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Post uploaded 1230 October 25 2011 by Richard Hook