Writer rips news coverage of tonsillectomies & weight gain study

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We’d seen some of the news coverage about a study in the journal of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, but we can’t review everything on HealthNewsReview.org and this is one that fell between the cracks.

However, Emily Willingham, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to College Biology,” has taken her own significant swing at an MSNBC story on her Biology Files blog, while commenting briefly on ten other stories as well. Excerpts:

“According to the report, the study authors speculate that the recent increase in childhood obesity might trace in part to the 500,000 children who undergo tonsillectomies every year in the United States.

What the news report does not clear up is whether or not this “greater than expected” weight gain adds up to a gain into “overweight” or “obese” territory for children who were within normal weight parameters before the operation. As the piece notes, it’s likely that children who have tonsillectomies for the usual indications–repeated strep infections, breathing difficulties–might start eating more or using the energy more efficiently post-op.

The piece closes with the standard de rigeur pap that parents should watch their offspring post-op for weight gain and talk to a pediatrician if they’re concerned. The closure-satisfying implication is that the findings of this study are so, um, weighty, that they warrant a specific parental eye to those pediatric pounds after a tonsil surgery. Yes, just one more thing to add to the parental worry list, based on this report. Indeed, I’d be more inclined to caution parents to take their children to the pediatrician if the little wee one does not put on some weight post-op.

I’d have been surprised if the researchers had not found weight gain following tonsillectomy. It’s the obvious hypothesis, unlike the silly speculation that this operation might be contributing to the “obesity epidemic.” That’s just dropping in a buzz phrase in a desperate grab for clicks and eyeballs, and nothing more. In this case, it looks like the researcher carries some of the load for overreaching. Anyone want to hypothesize whether or not there are gains involved in that?”

I love to see more smart players get involved in the scrutiny of health news.

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Comments (8)

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Shonnah

April 28, 2011 at 3:00 am

I for one was thrilled to see this study come out. I had my tonsils out when I was 8. Prior to that I was just as skinny as everyone else in our family. I started gaining a lot of weight very rapidly even though my habits stayed the same. My mom had said for the longest time, “I think that surgery did something to you.” 20 years later I have finally started to lose the weight and for the first time since getting my tonsils out I am in the healthy weight/BMI range. I fully believe there is something to this study and don’t think it’s just an excuse. It was very hard growing up as the only fat person in an entire family of healthy, thin people, I was teased mercilessly and this study gives me reason to feel just a little vindicated.

Gary Schwitzer

April 28, 2011 at 8:27 am

Shonnah,
The point of the blog post was to comment on the news coverage of the study.
There’s nothing in the original post that criticized the publication of the study itself.

Mike Chernick

February 6, 2012 at 2:57 am

Gary, I like skepticism, and appreciate humor, but not when it complicates the message. Besides the opening quotation mark which never closed, it was a bit challenging elsewhere; I’ve got a lot to read too without having to figure out puzzles.
Read Lord Chesterfield’s letters to his nephew a century ago, wherein he makes this observation which has been going on for a long time-that losing this part of the lymph system slows detoxification and causes undue weight gain; this may not matter if somebody is very healthy, but if they are borderline, it will affect them. Chesterfield cites a schoolmaster’s notes about girls, side by side, who did and who did not have tonsillectomies, and post-op some became fatter, bovine may have been the word used. Its serious enough that sarcasm must take a back seat.

Mike Chernick

February 6, 2012 at 2:57 am

Gary, I like skepticism, and appreciate humor, but not when it complicates the message. Besides the opening quotation mark which never closed, it was a bit challenging elsewhere; I’ve got a lot to read too without having to figure out puzzles.
Read Lord Chesterfield’s letters to his nephew a century ago, wherein he makes this observation which has been going on for a long time-that losing this part of the lymph system slows detoxification and causes undue weight gain; this may not matter if somebody is very healthy, but if they are borderline, it will affect them. Chesterfield cites a schoolmaster’s notes about girls, side by side, who did and who did not have tonsillectomies, and post-op some became fatter, bovine may have been the word used. Its serious enough that sarcasm must take a back seat.

Mike Chernick

February 6, 2012 at 3:56 am

Its one hour later and I have been Googling all the way to Sweden, and they have the most conclusive evidence, including weight gain; and most importantly, increased coronary problems for those who have the operation done before age twenty. Dr Janszky, head of study, its all yours for the search. Best of Luck