A doctor who'll next year start performing surgeries in Auckland to shrink the stomachs of obese children says a lack of government leadership against advertising "crappy food" to kids is compounding a child obesity epidemic.
Seven Sharp met New Zealand doctors Richard Barbour and Brandon Orr-Walker while they were in the US to observe a controversial procedure, laproscopic sleeve gastrectomy, which involves the removal of 80 to 85 per cent of the stomach in young patents.
The two Kiwi doctors, who'll perform the surgery in Auckland, met Dr Evan Nadler, a world leader in bariatric surgery for children at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington D.C.
Dr Nadler specialises in laproscopic sleeve gastrectomies in the US, and a pilot group of 10 Kiwi teens, between 15 and 18, will receive this surgery in Auckland.
"I'm not happy about it - but we're doing it," Dr Barbour said.
"It's an explosion. It really is an epidemic. We are the fattest country in the world almost, because we eat too much, we're too sedentary and we don't care enough."
Childhood obesity is a complex problem which Dr Barbour says is compounded by a lack of government leadership.
"I'd rather not be doing surgery on children. But we do really need to address the quality of our food supply - how we allow big companies to advertise crappy food to children, what kind of food we expose them too - all those kinds of things," he said.
But Dr Barbour doesn't see that happening anytime soon, so he and his colleagues are preparing to treat the symptoms, performing surgery on New Zealand's biggest kids.
Who am I to withhold that cure from you just because of your age?"
American surgeon Dr Evan Nadler
Dr Nadler started performing the controversial surgeries at Children's National Medical Center seven years ago and says, in his mind, age is just a number.
"If you have diabetes from your weight and I have a cure, who am I to withhold that cure from you just because of your age? There is no other disease where we withhold treatment based on age," he said.
Dr Nadler says the number one risk factor for a child having a weight problem in the US is having a parent with a weight problem.
"So if you're born to a mom while she is obese, you're likely to be obese when you're a teenager."
Dr Barbour says poverty and ethnicity are the two biggest associations with obesity in New Zealand.
"So Polynesian and Maori children are much more likely to get obese and they are much more likely to suffer the negative health consequences of obesity," he said.