Beyond insurance: race-based disparities in the use of metabolic and bariatric surgery for the management of severe pediatric obesity

Surg Obes Relat Dis. 2020 Mar;16(3):414-419. doi: 10.1016/j.soard.2019.11.020. Epub 2019 Dec 4.


Background: It is unknown whether previously noted racial disparities in the use of metabolic and bariatric surgery (MBS) for the management of pediatric obesity could be mitigated by accounting for primary insurance.

Objectives: To examine utilization of pediatric MBS across race and insurance in the United States.

Setting: Retrospective cross-sectional study.

Methods: The National Inpatient Sample was used to identify patients 12 to 19 years old undergoing MBS from 2015 to 2016, and these data were combined with national estimates of pediatric obesity obtained from the 2015 to 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Severe obesity was defined as class III obesity, or class II obesity plus hypertension, dyslipidemia, or type 2 diabetes.

Results: A total of 1,659,507 (5.0%) adolescents with severe obesity were identified, consisting of 35.0% female, 38.0% white, and 45.0% privately insured adolescents. Over the same time period, 2535 MBS procedures were performed. Most surgical patients were female (77.5%), white (52.8%), and privately insured (57.5%). Black and Hispanic adolescents were less likely to undergo MBS than whites (odds ratio .50, .46, respectively; P < .001 both), despite adjusting for primary insurance. White adolescents covered by Medicaid were significantly more likely to undergo MBS than their privately insured counterparts (odds ratio 1.66; P < .001), while the opposite was true for black and Hispanic adolescents (odds ratio .29, .75, respectively; P < .001 both).

Conclusions: Pediatric obesity disproportionately affects racial minorities, yet MBS is most often performed on white adolescents. Medicaid insurance further decreases the use of MBS among nonwhite adolescents, while paradoxically increasing it for whites, suggesting expansion of government-sponsored insurance alone is unlikely to eliminate this race-based disparity.

Keywords: Healthcare disparities; Metabolic and bariatric surgery; Pediatric obesity.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bariatric Surgery*
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2*
  • Female
  • Healthcare Disparities
  • Humans
  • Insurance*
  • Male
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Obesity, Morbid* / surgery
  • Pediatric Obesity* / epidemiology
  • Pediatric Obesity* / surgery
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult