More Kids Having Weight-Loss Surgery

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By DAVID B. CARUSO
The Associated Press
Sunday, February 4, 2007; 11:10 PM

NEW YORK -- As the popularity of stomach surgery has skyrocketed among obese adults, a growing number of doctors are asking, "Why not children, too?"

For decades, the number of kids trying weight-loss surgery has been tiny. The operations themselves were risky, with a death rate of about 1 in 50. Children rarely got that fat, and when they did, pediatricians hesitated to put the developing bodies under the knife. Only 350 U.S. kids had such an operation in 2004, according to federal statistics.

But improvements in surgical technique and huge increases in the number of dangerously obese children have begun fueling a change of heart.

A group of four hospitals, led by Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, are starting a large-scale study this spring examining how children respond to various types of weight-loss surgery, including the gastric bypass, in which a pouch is stapled off from the rest of the stomach and connected to the small intestine.

Three more hospitals have approval from the Food and Drug Administration to test how teens fare with a procedure called laparoscopic gastric banding, where an elastic collar installed around the stomach limits how much someone can eat.

The FDA has hesitated to approve the gastric band for children, but surgeons at New York University Medical Center reported in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery this month that the device holds promise.

The 53 boys and girls, aged 13 to 17, who participated in NYU's study shed nearly half their excess weight over 18 months, while suffering relatively minor complications.

Crystal Kasprowicz, of St. James, N.Y., said she lost 100 pounds from her 250-pound frame after having the band installed at age 17.

"I'm a totally different person," she said.

Before the procedure, Kasprowicz said she took medication for a rapid heartbeat and was showing signs of developing diabetes. Every effort she made to stop getting bigger failed. Dieting didn't work, she said. Her heart problems made it hard to exercise. Even walking up stairs was a challenge.

Now, she's off the heart drugs. Her blood-sugar levels are in check. She also feels better about herself.

"I'm very outgoing now," said Kasprowicz. "I hike a lot ... I go to the beach in the summer now. I'm not as self-conscious when I go shopping for clothing."


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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