A new study from the University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor, finds that the estimated 16% of children and adolescents in the United States who are obese are much more likely to have problems with breathing-related functions during surgery.

The study examined the effect of body weight on the outcomes of elective, noncardiac operations in 2,025 children from 2 to 18 years of age. 1,380 of those were of normal weight, while 351 were overweight and 294 were obese.

Results of the study found that major airway obstructions occurred in 19% of the obese children, while it occurred in only 11% of the normal-weight children. Difficult mask ventilation was experienced by nearly 9% of the obese children, compared with only 2% of the normal-weight children. Major oxygen desaturation occurred in 17% of the obese children and only 9% of the normal weight children.

“Based on our current trends, it is likely that anesthesiologists will continue to care for an increasing number of children who are overweight or obese,” says Alan R. Tait, PhD, professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at the U-M Health System, and lead author of the study. He adds, “So it is vital that we are aware of the higher risk they face in the operating room.”

The study appears in the March issue of the journal Anesthesiology.