Study Links Age to Kids' Weight Gain After Tonsillectomy

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A Johns Hopkins study has tied weight gains in children who underwent tonsillectomies to their age at the time of surgery. The results should end speculation in many families that a child's weight gain was caused by the reason for the surgery. Both my daughter and I had tonsillectomies as children and saw a jump on the scale afterward.

The Baltimore researchers studied 115 area children. They discovered that significant weight gains occurred in many under the age of 6, but not in older children, according to Newswise.

In prior generations, doctors used tonsillectomy primarily to treat inflamed or infected tonsils. These days, its most common use is as a treatment for breathing disorders during sleep, such as sleep apnea after other methods fail, says the Mayo Clinic. The procedure also treats recurring or severe tonsillitis, complications associated with enlarged tonsils, and other rare diseases of the tonsils.

Both the tonsils and the adenoids are collections of immune cells located behind the lymph glands. They're positioned in the mouth and behind the patient's nasal passages, according to MedicineNet. It's easiest to picture them as two oval-shaped pads on each side of the back of the throat.

For years, experts believed that weight gain after tonsillectomy was linked to the most common reason to perform the procedure: sleep apnea. The Baltimore study is the first to largely dispel this belief and is also considered the biggest to evaluate weight gain in each age group through age 17.

The researchers hope their results will bring relief to parents concerned that their overweight adolescent children will gain even more weight after the surgery. The results suggest that only children between 2 and 6 who are at normal weight or who are underweight will experience a significant weight gain.

My daughter and I were each 5 when our respective doctors advised tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies. Both of us were close to the limit on charts for normal weight prior to the surgery, but we didn't stand out as overly heavy in a group. My baby book states that within six months after the surgery, this had changed. By the end of kindergarten, my daughter was also overweight.

The Maryland study looked at the records of children between 6 months and 18 years old who had undergone tonsillectomies at the Johns Hopkins Outpatient Center between 2008 and 2011. The average post-surgical weight gain was 2 to 5 pounds and was directly tied to the child's age, not the reason for the surgery.

Parents who remain concerned about the link between age and kids' weight gain after tonsillectomy can use this information to plan for reductions in daily calories if their children fall into the affected age group. The researchers plan to next investigate exactly why age affects a weight gain after this type of surgery.

Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.

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