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Delaware surgeon leading push to treat severe childhood obesity with bariatric surgery

Nick Ciolino
Delaware Public Media

A Delaware surgeon is taking a lead role in an effort to increase access to bariatric surgery for children with severe obesity. 

American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) says about 4.5 million children and adolescents across the country are considered severely obese. And the group’s new policy statement recommends those children be referred to weight management centers for bariatric surgery using one of several different procedures that reduce the size of the stomach.

Kirk Reichard, MD is surgical director of the Bariatric Surgery Program at Nemours and coauthor of the AAP statement. He says the new policy removes the age criteria for those procedures. 

“When we first started doing bariatric surgery in teenagers we were ultra conservative,” said Reichard. “We set an age cut off of 13 or 14. The weight at which they would minimally qualify for a procedure was far higher than in adults, and that was set not based on any empiric data, but just to—quote—seem safe.” 

Reichard says the new policy is geared towards pediatricians, medical payers and government agencies with hopes of cutting into the costs of severe obesity and related conditions.

He notes many insurance plans currently will not pay bariatric surgery for children. 

“Their concern all along has been the longer term outcomes; the complication rates,” said Reichard. “So now we have a good, solid five years of data on that, that I’m hoping once we get it in front of them—and that’s the plan over the next couple months—that it will really change their approach on how they pay for this important service.” 

Reichard adds he is combating public perception that obesity is a choice. He says it’s largely determined by genetics and socio-economic factors.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s latest data shows 12,400 obese young people ages 10 to 17 in Delaware, giving the First State a more than 15 percent childhood obesity rate. The national rate is two-tenths of a percent higher.

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