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2-year-old gets weight-loss surgery: How young is too young?

By Kelly Wallace CNN | 9/22/2013, 8:53 a.m.

"She told me she wasn't putting me under a knife that she hadn't been under herself," she said. "And I can't even imagine how difficult that decision was for her to allow me to do this and it must be so much harder for the parents of a 2-year-old to do that."

In my conversations with women across the country, a universal feeling about this case was sorrow for this little boy.

"I'm very saddened to learn of the extreme measures that were taken for the health of this toddler," said Lori Garcia, a mom of two boys, ages 5 and 10, and host of the blog, Mommyfriend. "Were there no other or better alternatives than two failed attempts at dieting?"

Renae Wortz, who is a mom and nurse practitioner, also wondered whether there might have been a less invasive treatment to help the boy lose the weight, but she also thought about what she would do if she were in the same situation.

"I think parents will do anything, even if it's extreme, to help a sick child," said Wortz, who is one of the co-founders of the blog, Mom Colored Glasses. "Maybe they weren't able to stick to the diet, but maybe they were. Maybe they did everything they could to help him lose weight, but weren't successful in the end."

Another pressing concern is the unknown long-term impact such a surgery could have on the child's development, including intellectual problems down the road. "The brain just grows so rapidly between birth to 3 years old, he's still in that very phase of development," said Shu. "So we don't know what kind of effects the surgery may have."

"Medicine is not a perfect science and without prior data (exploring similar cases), such impacts would be uncertain and that uncertainty would have to be factored in to the risk/benefit decision for the child's health," said Alpita Shah, an international finance and community development lawyer in Chicago.

Beyond the medical uncertainties and possible complications (which could include leakage, infection and blood clots), weight-loss surgery on a 2-year-old raises the question: What does this story say about us? What impact might it have on other kids and families struggling with weight?

"Skinny is not an equation for health," said blogger and author Liz Henry, whose work will be featured in the upcoming book "The Good Mother Myth." "This is unchartered territory and a dangerous precedent for still growing and maturing bodies."

Henry, who has written about her and her daughter's struggles with weight, worries about the message this case might send.

"While this may be an extreme case, it can lead to other parents looking at the rubber-band wrists and pudgy thighs of their toddler and immediately seeking medical intervention that leads to irreversible harm," she said.

"I truly hope that pediatric gastric bypass surgery doesn't become just another 'norm' in our culture of instant gratification and 'easy fixes,' " said Wortz.

For her part, Caprigno, who has lost over 130 pounds following her surgery, and has completely changed the way she thinks about food, the takeaway from this story is for all of us to talk more openly about obesity and to understand what it is in the first place. The American Medical Association just recognized it as a disease back in June.

"We definitely need to recognize that there's no one to blame for this and that there are genetic components that play a part, lifestyle plays a part, and we just need to change how we view obesity because there's such a stigma," said Caprigno, who currently works with the nonprofit the Obesity Action Coalition.

"We try to get everyone to understand that this is a disease. It's not something we choose," she said.

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