A child may have their tonsils and adenoids removed for a variety of reasons including recurrent infections of the throat and tonsils or difficulty breathing due to adenoid enlargement. The number of such procedures performed on children has dropped since the early 1960’s as some of the procedures were found not to have little effect on the risk of infection. Still, removal of the tonsils and adenoids remains the most common surgical procedure performed on children. While most adenoid and tonsil surgery is well tolerated by most children, a new study suggests that there may be a longer term risk associated with the procedure ‘” the risk of childhood weight gain.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics showed that having adenoid and tonsil surgery during childhood appears to increase the risk of accelerated weight gain. The researchers studied 3,962 children through the use of questionnaires directed towards the parents to determine whether they had had their tonsils and adenoids removed, as well as other medical history and risk factors associated with being overweight. They also measured the children’s weight at eight years of age.
The results showed that children who had adenoid and tonsil surgery at age seven or younger had a higher risk of being overweight or obese at age eight. The risk of being overweight increased by 61%, while the risk of obesity climbed by a whopping 136%. The risk seems to be highest in the years immediately following the surgery. Although the reason for the higher risk of being overweight after adenoid and tonsil surgery isn’t completely understood, it’s hypothesized that parents may overfeed children during the recovery period. It’s also possible that children feel more like eating after they’ve had infected tonsils removed, particularly if they’ve suffered from recurrent infections.
Although the potential for weight gain isn’t a reason to avoid this surgery if there’s justification, many unnecessary adenoid and tonsil surgeries are still performed in this country. A 2004 study showed that mild breathing problems and throat infections can usually be managed with close observation without resorting to surgery. Although there are still indications for adenoid and tonsil surgery such as sleep apnea, the pros and cons of tonsillectomy should be weighed against the risks.
If a child does undergo adenoid and tonsil surgery, experts recommend closer monitoring of diet and body weight changes after the surgery to reduce the potential for excessive weight gain.