Irish teens get gastric bands as obesity time-bomb explodes

IRISH teenagers as young as 15 are being given gastric bands as the numbers needing drastic surgery continue to escalate.

Gastric bands reduce a patient's stomach size to help prevent them overeating.

Experts say it's the latest example of Ireland's spiralling obesity epidemic among the younger age group. One-in-four children are either overweight or obese in Ireland.

"I've seen kids who are of such size that they've been referred to the UK for consideration of gastric banding," explained Professor Donal O'Shea (pictured inset).

"The problem is that our treatment services are so underdeveloped that we don't have the surgery capability for obesity in children in Ireland.

"The scale of the problem in this country is on par with that in Britain.

"And we lag only a little bit behind the US, where 33pc of children are overweight, or obese.

"There has been an absolute explosion in the extreme end of obesity in kids. We have 15-year-olds in this country who weigh 16 and 17 stone.

"We've reached a stage where the argument has progressed to what is the best type of operation for children who are obese.

"I've referred two patients, aged 15 and 16, to Great Ormond Street for consideration of bariatric surgery."

Prof O'Shea, who heads the obesity management clinic in St Columcille's Hospital, Dublin, said the obesity time-bomb was no longer just ticking - it had "exploded".

He told the Irish Independent that we were fast heading towards the "nightmare scenario".

"At current trends we will need obesity surgery for more children in Ireland within the next 10 years. That's the sad reality."

Dr Sinead Murphy, consultant paediatrician in Temple Street hospital, said the obesity crisis was affecting children as young as three and four years of age. "A healthy three-year-old should probably weigh about 15 kilos. But we regularly see three-year-olds weigh 25 kilos and upwards - they are clinically obese."

Dr Murphy said children were presenting with a raft of medical problems as a direct result of their burgeoning waistlines.

"We're seeing an awful lot of muscular skeletal problems. A lot of children have joint and back pain, and breathing difficulties," she said.

"Half the kids we're seeing have high insulin levels, which means they're on a path to Type-2 diabetes.

"Half of the 10-year-olds we're seeing have high cholesterol already."

She said children eligible for bariatric surgery were given "psychological preparation" before going under the knife.

"These children could also be an anesthetic risk because they're so overweight."

Ireland's only dedicated childhood obesity treatment programme, at Dublin's Temple Street Children's Hospital, has had a 400pc increase in just one year in referrals of children aged under five.

The long-term effects of being seriously overweight include reduced educational achievement, risk of heart disease and certain cancers, as well as the possibility of developing type 2 diabetes.

"We're diagnosing diabetes in people in their 20s, and new cancers will double by 2030, driven by the obesity epidemic," said Prof O'Shea.

"We can't wait until we have to cope with kidney failure and amputation in people in their 30s and 40s."

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