Children as young as 15 have dangerous gastric band surgery in Britain

Obese Britain: NHS paid for 20 children as young as 15 to have invasive weight-loss surgery in past two years

By Matt Blake
PUBLISHED: 09:39, 13 May 2012 | UPDATED: 12:43, 13 May 2012

Up to 20 children as young as 15 had invasive weight-loss surgery on the NHS in the past two years, new figures have revealed.

Publicity surrounding celebrities such as Fern Britton, who shed more than five stone after a gastric band operation, has fueled a surge of interest in fat-fighting surgery which can cost up to £7,000.

The operation has generally been considered too risky for children in the UK, driving some desperate parents to seek help abroad.

But today’s research has revealed that now the NHS is shelling out for children to have stomach-stapling surgery amid a childhood obesity epidemic that is sweeping Britain.

With a third of UK children classed as overweight or obese, six health trusts have paid for the treatment.

International Obesity Task Force founder Philip James branded the news a ‘tragic sign’ that Britain has ‘failed to turn the table’ on the problem.

‘Unfortunately Britain is bottom of the league and successive governments have failed to properly address the problem,’ he told the Sunday Express.

Operations have shot up tenfold since 2000 and are now estimated to be costing the NHS £35million a year at a time of crisis for the public finances.

In 2004, no one under the age of 18 was given a gastric bypass, gastric band or stomach stapling on the NHS, and Health Service guidelines suggest operations should not generally be offered to anyone under that age.

But Sussex, Sheffield, Barnsley, Portsmouth, Camden and Sandwell Primary Care Trusts all paid for children to have gastric band surgery in the last two years, according to a Freedom of Information request by the paper.

Critics say the risks are largely unknown but there are fears that the surgery can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Gastric banding costs between £5,000 and £7,000, while bypasses cost between £8,000 and £14,000.

The youngest Brit to have a gastric band fitted was 13-year-old Emrah Mevsimler, now 17.

He was one of four members of his family to have the operation, so they could avoid the same fate as his mother – who was officially Britain’s most obese woman.

Sharon Mevsimler died in July this year, at the age of 40, only a year after having a gastric band herself.

At her peak she weighed 45 stone and spent the last two months of her life on a specially-strengthened bed in hospital in Chelmsford, Essex.

Emrah weighed more than 14 stone in his early teens so she paid for him to have the operation in Belgium in 2007.

Now 17, and a normal weight for his age, he said after his mother’s death: ‘She saved my life but she didn’t get to save hers.’

Describing the surgery as ‘the best thing I’ve ever done’, he said he was badly bullied for his weight as a child.

‘People called me fatty or told me to go and eat another cream cake. The more people bullied me, the more depressed I became and the more I ate,’ he told the Sunday Express.

‘After the operation I would be sick if I ate too much, and I could only eat liquidised food but the weight started dropping off.’

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