Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Time for the UK to commit to tackling child obesity

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: (Published 22 February 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j762

Rapid Response:

Severe child obesity: a potential lost tribe?

More than a quarter of children in England and Wales have overweight and, worryingly, obesity prevalence is as high as 15% (1, 2). Mark Hanson and colleagues (3) are absolutely right to highlight the desperate need for, and the persistent bureaucratic barriers to, concerted multimodal measures to actively reduce child obesity rates, not just halt their increase.

However, while we vehemently seek appropriate discussion and delivery of anti-obesogenic medicine (population-level) interventions, we must not forget about the young individuals who cannot and will not be helped by such an approach. When obesity is severe (i.e. BMI ≥40 kg/m2, or ≥120% of 95th percentile), lifestyle and pharmaceutical interventions are unsuccessful (4). These individuals get lost within, or worse, left outside of health care systems that struggle find a successful response. There is evidence that obesity will both significantly shorten the length (5) and worsen the quality (6) of these young people’s lives. With long-term evidence recently emerging supporting the efficacy of adolescent bariatric surgery in reversing and improving weight, quality of life and cardiometabolic risk factors, including type 2 diabetes, dyslipidaemia and hypertension (7-9), it is now essential that this vulnerable group is not left as a lost tribe. Instead, we must learn in the UK from lessons in Sweden (8) and the US (7,9), where adolescent bariatric surgery programmes have been developed over the past decade. Prevention and treatment are not mutually exclusive; both are essential in what will almost certainly be a ‘hundred-years war’ on child obesity.

1. Boodhna G. HSE 2013: Children's BMI, overweight and obesity. Health Survey for England; Health, social care and lifestyles. 12013.
2. Bailey L. Child Measurement Programme for Wales 2014/2015: Public Health Wales NHS Trust; 2016.
3. Hanson M, Mullins E, Modi N. Time for the UK to commit to tackling child obesity. Bmj. 2017;356:j762.
4. Kelly AS, Barlow SE, Rao G, Inge TH, Hayman LL, Steinberger J, et al. Severe obesity in children and adolescents: identification, associated health risks, and treatment approaches: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2013;128(15):1689-712.
5. van Dam RM, Willett WC, Manson JE, Hu FB. The relationship between overweight in adolescence and premature death in women. Annals of internal medicine. 2006;145(2):91-7.
6. Schwimmer JB, Burwinkle TM, Varni JW. Health-related quality of life of severely obese children and adolescents. Jama. 2003;289(14):1813-9.
7. Inge TH, Courcoulas AP, Jenkins TM, Michalsky MP, Helmrath MA, Brandt ML, et al. Weight Loss and Health Status 3 Years after Bariatric Surgery in Adolescents. The New England journal of medicine. 2016;374(2):113-23.
8. Olbers T, Beamish AJ, Gronowitz E, Flodmark CE, Dahlgren J, Bruze G, et al. Laparoscopic Roux-en-Y gastric bypass in adolescents with severe obesity (AMOS): a prospective, 5-year, Swedish nationwide study. The lancet Diabetes & endocrinology. 2017;5(3):174-83.
9. Inge TH, Jenkins TM, Xanthakos SA, Dixon JB, Daniels SR, Zeller MH, et al. Long-term outcomes of bariatric surgery in adolescents with severe obesity (FABS-5+): a prospective follow-up analysis. The lancet Diabetes & endocrinology. 2017;5(3):165-73.

Competing interests: I work in the field of bariatric surgery.

27 February 2017
Andrew J Beamish
RCSEng / David Johnston Bariatric Research Fellow
Gothenburg University
Department of Gastrosurgical Research and Education, Gothenburg University, Sweden.