Obese youngsters could be given stomach-stapling surgery on the National Health Service as child weight problems soar.
The move comes as health professionals grow increasingly concerned about obesity in young children. More than a quarter of children are overweight and one-seventh of two- to 10-year-olds are classed as clinically obese.
Under new proposals children as young as 14 may, in extreme cases, be offered surgery, while those as young as 12 could be offered anti-obesity drugs. The guidelines were put forward by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) in a report on UK obesity and will now be put out to a two-month consultation.
Specialists have broadly welcomed the move which, they say, would affect only the very small number of children who are so overweight their lives are at risk.
Dr Ian Campbell, an obesity specialist and former head of the National Obesity Forum, said: "I think when it's put in context, surgery is a legitimate option. There are an increasing number of kids at serious risk as a result of morbid obesity. The fact is we're not that good at treatment really. Lifestyle changing is the first port of call and then medication, but it doesn't always work."
The number of adults undergoing major stomach surgery on the NHS has nearly doubled in three years, according to Department of Health figures. Procedures to shrink the capacity of the stomach - which include gastric banding - have becomepopular for patients when diet and lifestyle changes have not worked.
It is estimated about 4,300 people will have obesity surgery this year, compared with 2,287 in 2004, most of them at private hospitals.
A number of celebrities have recently undergone stomach surgery, including the TV presenter Anne Diamond - who has been in ITV1's Celebrity Fit Club. The Argentinian footballer Diego Maradona has said he lost more than four stone after stomach surgery last year, and former Bad Manners singer Buster Bloodvessel is reported to have gone from 31 stone to 13 stone after the procedure.
Dr Neil Wright of Sheffield Children's Hospital said of the Nice proposals: "I suspect the numbers involved would be very small indeed. It's certainly something we would consider if the child was running into serious health problems, here and now.
"Gastric banding is not without its hazards and you have to weigh up the risk and the health benefit. But it does seem to be effective."
But Dr Paul Sacher, a specialist dietician at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, warned: "Stomach surgery does not lead to behavioural change or educate children to eat properly. It could also have psychological effects on these children and, because it is a major surgical procedure, there are risks."Reuse content