FAQs Pediatric Obesity and Anesthesia




What is pediatric obesity?
Pediatric obesity is defined as children and adolescents with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30. It has become a growing and alarming trend in America.

How many children and adolescents are obese?
In a recent survey conducted by the CDC, approximately 16.9 percent of children and adolescents aged 2-19 were obese.

To what degree is pediatric obesity increasing?
The number of obese children has doubled in the past two decades, while the number of obese adolescents has tripled.

Can pediatric obesity lead to health complications?
Yes. While obese children and adolescents may experience severe health issues associated with their weight – including asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes – they are even more at risk during a surgical procedure. 

Why are obese children and adolescents more at risk during a surgical procedure?
Children’s airways are still developing and may collapse during the administration of anesthesia. Obese children are even more likely to experience breathing problems during surgery because they have extra tissue that may compress the airway.

Is pediatric anesthesia administered differently than adult anesthesia?
Yes. Although children and adolescents receive anesthesia by both inhalation and intravenously, anesthesia is most often given by mask to younger patients, which can pose more risks when the patient is obese. It can also be difficult to find a vein to administer intravenous anesthesia or life saving emergency medications.

Are obese children and adolescents susceptible to any other potential complications when undergoing surgery?
Yes. Obese children and adolescents who undergo surgery are more likely to experience:

  • Difficult mask ventilation
  • Airway obstruction
  • Oxygen de-saturation
  • Bronchospasm (asthma-like condition)
  • Prolonged awakening from anesthesia

Can parents improve their children’s surgical outcomes and overall health?
Yes. You can improve your child’s surgical outcomes and overall health by:

  1. Making sure your child’s anesthesiologist has experience treating obese youth and learning about the specific risks involved.
  2. Helping your child lose weight before the surgery. Even a small amount of weight loss can have a good impact on your child’s surgical outcome.
  3. Setting reasonable short-term and long-term weight-loss goals. Consult with your pediatrician to establish a safe weight-loss program for your child, and discuss this program with your child’s anesthesiologist and surgeon to ensure it won’t interfere with the surgery.
  4. Encouraging healthy eating both in and out of the house – before and after surgery. 
  5. Encouraging daily exercise before and after surgery, once approved by the surgeon, by signing your child up for team sports or after-school physical activities.
  6. Following these steps recommended by the ASA to prepare your child for surgery.

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The ASA does not employ physician anesthesiologists on staff and cannot respond to patient inquiries regarding specific medical conditions or anesthesia administration. Please direct any questions related to anesthetics, procedures or treatment outcomes to the patient’s anesthesiologist or general physician.