Pediatric Transplant. 2020 Nov 11:e13913. doi: 10.1111/petr.13913. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: Inclusion of BMI as criterion in the determination of heart transplant candidacy in children is a clinical and ethical challenge. Childhood obesity is increasing and children with heart disease are not spared. Currently, many adult heart transplant centers consider class II obesity and higher (BMI > 35 kg/m2 ) to be a relative contraindication for transplantation due to risk of poor outcome after transplant. No national guidelines exist regarding consideration of BMI in pediatric heart transplant and outcomes data are limited. This leaves decisions about transplant candidacy in obese pediatric patients to individual institutions or on a case-by-case basis, allowing for bias and inequity.
METHODS: We review (a) the prevalence of childhood obesity, including among heart transplant candidates, (b) the lack of existing BMI guidelines, and (c) relevant literature on BMI and pediatric heart transplant outcomes. We discuss the ethical considerations of using obesity as a criterion using the principles of utility, justice, and respect for persons.
RESULTS: Existing transplant outcomes data do not show that obese children have different or poor enough outcomes compared to non-obese children to warrant exclusion. Moreover, obesity in the United States is unequally distributed by race and socioeconomic status. Children already suffering from health disparities are therefore doubly penalized if obesity denies them access to life-saving transplant.
CONCLUSION: Insufficient data exist to support using any BMI cutoff as an absolute contraindication for heart transplant in children. Attention should be paid to health equity issues when considering excluding a patient for transplant based on obesity.