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Circumcision Boost: Study Cites Benefits, Notes Foreskin-Related Health Problems

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New findings may offer a boost to proponents of newborn male circumcision: Researchers in the U.S. and Australia report that the health benefits of undergoing the procedure "exceed the risks by over 100 to 1," and note that "over their lifetime, half of uncircumcised males will contract an adverse medical condition caused by their foreskin."

The review, published online in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, bolsters the position of mainstream physician groups, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, which supports insurance coverage of the practice and full access for families who choose circumcision for their infants. But the new report is unlikely to silence critics of the practice, who have called it "insane" and a "disservice to American parents and children."

Here's some context, from the study, which shows a slight increase in circumcision among older men, but a decline among newborns:

Preparing for a circumcision (Cheskel Dovid/Wikimedia Commons)
Preparing for a circumcision (Cheskel Dovid/Wikimedia Commons)

And here's more from the news release:


Whereas circumcision rates have risen in white men to 91%, in black men to 76%, and in Hispanic men to 44%, the study authors found an alarming decrease in infants. To get the true figures they had to correct hospital discharge data for underreporting. This showed that circumcision had declined from a high of 83% in the 1960s to 77% today.

There seemed to be two major reasons for the fall.

One is a result of demographic changes, with the rise in the Hispanic population. Hispanic families tend to be less familiar with the custom, making them less likely to circumcise their baby boys.

The other is the current absence of Medicaid coverage for the poor in 18 US states. In those states circumcision is 24% lower.
[Brian] Morris, Professor Emeritus in the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Sydney, stated, "The new findings now show that infant circumcision should be regarded as equivalent to childhood vaccination and that as such it would be unethical not to routinely offer parents circumcision for their baby boy. Delay puts the child's health at risk and will usually mean it will never happen."

In infancy the strongest immediate benefit is protection against urinary tract infections (UTIs) that can damage the kidney in half of babies who get a UTI. Morris and co-investigator Tom Wiswell, MD, Center for Neonatal Care, Orlando, showed last year that over the lifetime UTIs affect 1 in 3 uncircumcised males.

In a landmark systematic review, Morris, with John Krieger, MD, Department of Urology, University of Washington, Seattle, showed that there is no adverse effect of circumcision on sexual function, sensitivity, or pleasure. This helped dispel one myth perpetuated by opponents of the procedure.

Taken together, the new findings should send a strong message to medical practitioners, professional bodies, educators, policy makers, governments, and insurers to promote this safe, simple procedure, best done in infancy under local anesthesia and to increase access and third party coverage, especially for poor families, who tend to suffer most from foreskin-related diseases. Infant circumcision has, moreover, been shown to be cost saving.

Rachel Zimmerman Twitter Health Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for Bostonomix.

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