SAN ANTONIO – “The rise in obese children in the US is staggering, especially in San Antonio.
That’s why San Antonio Children’s Hospital is about to launch a new pediatric weight management program that includes the option of surgery.
The timing of the program’s opening coincides perfectly with the new American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for bariatric surgery for adolescents.
Decades of research have shown that we need to be more active when it comes to childhood obesity.
It is for this reason that Bariatric Surgeon Dr. Ann O’Connor was hired from Chicago to create and lead a new adolescent metabolic and bariatric surgery program at San Antonio Children’s Hospital.
“No one else in our part of the state does this comprehensively,” Dr. O’Connor said.
Dr. O’Connor has assembled a diverse team of nutritionists, physical therapists, psychologists and social workers.
“We plan to provide individual therapy and family support services. What family systems or family patterns have contributed to the development of these habits? And how can we use positive and sustainable approaches to address these issues?” said child psychologist Dr. Kelly Franco, who is part of the new team.
Dr. Franco will help mentally prepare families for major lifestyle changes in the face of a highly stigmatized disease.
“We are fighting a huge shame,” she said.
O’Connor said more people need to understand that obesity is a recognized disease that is sometimes genetic.
“There is a biology that we cannot change. We can try to change this, but there are many other factors – how the family eats. Do they eat together? Do they have cultural issues? Is everyone in the family already obese? Maybe they don’t even really realize that their child is sick, because everyone around is the same as them, ”she explained.
That is why they said that complex treatment should be carried out as early as possible, before the children become adults.
“With that comes other health issues: diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, which is actually a silent killer. We see children with orthopedic problems and kidney problems, then infertility. We know that the risk of developing cancer is 10 times higher in obese patients, regardless of everything else,” said O’Connor.
She said there was no time to wait, so she agreed with the new American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, which some are calling aggressive.
AAP just released updated recommendations on the treatment of obesity in children, focusing on early intervention, such as:
treatment of behavior and lifestyle of children aged 6 to 12 years
possible medications in addition to behavioral therapy for children over 12 years of age
possible bariatric surgery for children 13 and older with extreme BMI
Dr. O’Connor knows there is resistance to the idea of having teenagers do these surgeries, which is why she said education is key.
“Understanding that the operation is accepted, and not experimental and not some kind of crazy idea. In fact, a lot of excellent data has accumulated over the years. So it’s really a common treatment,” she said.
She wants the public to know that surgery is always a last resort and only for the sickest children at the center.
Physicians will spend at least six months working with patients on diet, exercise, family habits and mental health.
“Then we have access to all subspecialists, such as endocrinologists, cardiologists and nephrologists, as well as to all people who see the same group of patients,” O’Connor said.
Teenagers who qualify for surgery will have a large support team.
“Coping with stress or dealing with big family issues is not something these families are stuck doing on their own,” Franco said.
The program will start in the first couple of weeks of February and there is already a long list of patients waiting to participate.
If you would like your child to participate, please call 210-704-2011 or visit children’s hospital website
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