Are tonsillectomies contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic? According to a research study published in this month’s issue of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery, the answer may be yes.
Kids who have their tonsils removed appear to gain weight after surgery, leading them to become overweight compared to their peers with intact tonsils.
The research in the study spanned a 4-year period and close to 800 children were examined before their tonsil surgery and for up to 8 years afterward.
“We found a greater-than-expected weight gain in normal and overweight children after tonsillectomy,” said Dr. Anita Jeyakumar, who led the research team, to MSNBC.com.
In one analysis, the average body mass index of kids six months after surgery increased roughly 7 percent. But while most of the weight gain occurred within 12 months of the surgery, the researchers were not able to determine whether it tapered off after that.
The after-surgery weight gain coupled with the fact that tonsillectomies are the most common operation performed in childhood — more than 500,000 are done annually on children under 15 — left scientists wondering whether it’s a contributing factor to the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic.
One theory about why kids are gaining weight after the surgery is that with the enlarged tonsils, they’re spending more energy to breathe, so once they’re gone, they’re breathing easier and expending less energy.
Another possible explanation is when tonsils are infected and swallowing is painful, children may have less of a desire to eat.
I read studies like this and often scratch my head. If a kid needs his or her tonsils out, there’s not much that can be done, right? However, the theories on the weight gain both seem to make sense, so should the question really be how to retrain kids to eat and think about eating after their tonsillectomies? Is there a study on how effective that is?