Tonsillectomy linked to obesity later in life: Study

In a new study researchers found that childhood tonsillectomy could predispose patients to obesity later in life.

The study involved 795 children from 0 to 18 years who were described as normal to overweight prior to their operations, and they were separated into three separate groups. Group 1 included three studies involving 127 children, whose body mass index (BMI) increased by 5.5 per cent to 8.2 per cent. Group 2 included three studies involving 419 patients, in whom the standardized weight scores increased in 46 per cent to 100 per cent of patients. Group 3 included three studies with 249 patients, in whom 50 per cent to 75 per cent of the patients gained weight after adenoidectomy. The study was published in the medical journal Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. The 9 different studies spanned over 40 years.

Results showed that children who were operated on may have found eating and thusly consuming more calories after the surgery easier than in their pre-operative state. It was also posited that children recovering from operations may be doted on and possibly overfed by concerned parents.

Dr. Anita Jeyakumar, who led the research team said, “We found a greater-than-expected weight gain in normal and overweight children after tonsillectomy.” The team wonders whether this post-surgery weight gain in young people is contributing to the nation’s obesity epidemic. That is because tonsillectomy is the most common major operation done in childhood and more than 500,000 surgeries take place each year in the United States on kids under 15. Jeyakumar, a paediatric otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist) at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis, Mo said, “This weight gain has been going on for a long time, almost four decades. Now, we need to figure out why it’s happening.”

Dr. Jeyakumar added that one of the reasons for this link could be the fact that when children have enlarged tonsils, they are spending more energy (calories) to breathe. Once they are removed, breathing is easier and uses less calories. Also when tonsils are big and swallowing is difficult, children may limit the foods they eat or have less of an appetite. After the surgery, kids typically feel better and food probably tastes better, too.

Dr. Julie Wei, a paediatric otolaryngologist and associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Kansas City said, “There’s a huge difference between suggesting an association between getting your tonsils out and gaining weight and demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship.” Wei advises parents, “Keep a close eye on children after surgery and if you think they are gaining excessive weight, discuss this with your paediatrician.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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