04 July 2011
By, Malathy Iyer
So, one day last year, Neha, then 14, returned home and dropped out of Class X. “For nine months, she rarely stepped out or spoke to anybody other than family,” said her mother, 35-year-old Sangeeta, who works as an eyetesting technician.
Barely a month after turning 15, Neha on May 28 became one of the youngest persons in the country to undergo a successful weight reduction surgery. Statistics available with the Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society of India suggest less than 100 teens below 18 have undergone bariatric surgery.
“Some doctors have performed bariatric surgery (as the surgery is called) on kids as young as nine but it’s not been successful. Neha is doing well and weighs 71 kg now,” said Dr Manish Motwani of Aastha Hospital who operated on Neha.
Neha is an example of how the obesity epidemic is marching across India and across all age groups. A study published in the Lancet medical journal recently said that almost 1 in 5 Indian men and over 1 in 6 Indian women were overweight. In some urban areas of India, it is believed that obesity is almost 40%.
Doctors contend that some obese people are so traumatized by their inability to lose weight that they turn into social recluses – like Neha was until a few weeks back. She returned to school last week with a hope to score well in the Class X examinations.
“I am happy that I can get into clothes that I had brought two years back and could not wear,” said the teenager who visited all her relatives to “show off ” her new figure. “She has started stepping out of home and talking to old friends over her mobile phone. We couldn’t have been happier,” said her mother, who spent over Rs 2.5 lakh in the treatment. “We spent an equal sum in trying out various diets and buying medication.”
“In Neha’s case,” said Dr Motwani, “We have taken into consideration that she will gain some more height. We expect her weight to stablize around 50-55kg.”
The obesity epidemic has predictably led to a demand for bariatric surgery – even though the risk of infection or complications associated with the surgery is higher than with many other surgeries.
Said Dr Ramen Goel, a surgeon who specializes in metabolic surgeries and is the president of the All-India Association For Advancing Research in Obesity, “Every three months, one or two children under the age of 18 walk in seeking advice on bariatric surgery.”
Doctors counsel most of those walking in for surgery to look for alternative ways to lose weight, said Dr Motwani. “Utmost caution should be observed while operating on girls under 16 and boys under 18 because they are still in their growing phase,” said Dr Goel.
Adoctor on condition of anonymity said a Ulhasnagar-based nine-year-old who underwent bariatric surgery was in ICU for over a month after the stomach developed a leak. “He had to undergo another surgery.”
- Neha, 15, undergoes sleeve gastrectomy; her stomach is reduced to the size of a banana
- Doctors say surgery not enough, patients have to exercise and eat sensibly
- Risk of infection or complications
associated with the surgery is higher than many other procedures