As obesity soars, girls of 11 are being given breast reduction surgery on NHS
03:53 GMT, 28 August 2012
Girls as young as 11 are having breast reduction operations on the Health Service, figures show.
More than 100 girls aged 16 and under have had the surgery in the past five years after suffering severe back pain.
Health experts say some cases could be because children now tend to be significantly heavier than a few years ago, putting more pressure on their backs.
Department of Health figures show girls as young as 11 are having breast reduction operations on the NHS
The age of the youngest recipient was 11. NHS figures show that in 2007/08, between one and five girls aged 11 had the procedure, as did between one and five girls aged 12. In 2010/11 the youngest was 13.
There are concerns that a girl of that age could be far too young to have the procedure because her body will not have finished developing. The patient faces the risk of not being able to breast-feed when older.
The surgery will cost the taxpayer some 5,000 a time, and critics will argue that the cash-strapped NHS should not be paying for such procedures when those with cancer and other serious conditions are not getting the drugs they need.
The Department of Health said the operations are given the go-ahead only for clinical reasons, such as back pain or depression, and not for cosmetic ones.
Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said: 'Obesity will enlarge the breast size so it is perhaps natural that women concerned about their appearance would want to reduce the size of their breasts.
'Obesity on top of large breast size would make the back pain worse. It all goes in unison, and the solution is not to get fat.
Labour health spokesman Diane Abbott obtained the figures from the National Health Service
'It can be hard to know when assessing young girls whether it is actual fatness or their breasts, so I wouldn't consider breast reduction in children.'
Over the past five years, 21,328 women of all ages have had breast reduction operations on the NHS. In the latest year for which figures are available, 2010/11, the total was 4,212 – almost 12 every day.
The peak age for women having their breasts reduced on the NHS is between 35 and 55. The oldest was 90.
At least 19 women aged 80 and over have had the procedure.
At least 108 girls aged 16 and under had the operation.
It is not possible to give a definitive figure because if the number of people in each age group is five or less an exact number is not given by the NHS for fear of identifying the patient. The figures were obtained by Labour health spokesman Diane Abbott.
Nigel Mercer, a consultant plastic surgeon, said he was surprised so many breast reduction operations were being funded by the NHS. He said some primary care trusts were imposing restrictions because of budget cuts.
He added: 'This is not a cosmetic procedure, it is done on women with an abnormal body mass index who are suffering back ache and neck ache because of their massive breasts. Because they have such big breasts, they cannot exercise so it is difficult for them to lose weight.'
Mr Mercer, ex-president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, said: 'Some girls have massive breasts from an early age. It stigmatises them. People assume they are older than they are, and that can lead to unwanted attention.'
He added: 'Any self-respecting surgeon would operate on young girls only if there were significant psychological problems. It is a terrifying procedure.'
The Department of Health said NHS breast reductions were performed on younger girls if they had juvenile gigantomastia (abnormal excessive growth of breast tissue in adolescence), hyperplastic abnormalities (abnormal excessive growth of breast tissue) or giant fibroadeoma (a non-cancerous lump).