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The American Academy of Pediatrics announced a major shift in its stance towards male circumcision today, concluding that the health benefits of circumcision outweigh its risks. The group stopped short of recommending the procedure for all boys, though, and instead suggested that the decision should be left up to parents. The AAP’s previous circumcision policy statement, which was issued in 1999 and reaffirmed in 2005, said that there wasn’t enough evidence to recommend or discourage the procedure.

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The popularity of circumcision has dropped pretty dramatically in the US in recent years; now, only about 56 percent of newborn boys are circumcised — down from 63 percent in 1999. But new medical research has provided stronger evidence of the medical benefits that are associated with circumcision. Susan Blank, who led the task force that formulated the new policy, tells NPR that circumcision can lead to a reduced risk of urinary tract infection in the first year of life by up to 90 percent. And after that, circumcised males are much less likely to contract sexually-transmitted diseases, and it also reduces the chances that men will spread HPV to their sexual partners.

And although critics of circumcision claim that the procedure can dramatically reduce sensitivity and sexual function, experts were unable to find evidence to support those claims. Meanwhile, the risks of circumcision complications are less than 1% during the newborn period.

“In 1999, there was some data suggesting that there were some small medical benefits to circumcision but, at the time, there was not a compelling medical reason to recommend circumcision. So the previous policy didn’t argue for or against circumcision,” Dr. Douglas S. Diekema, a member of the circumcision task force, told AAP News.

Noting that the decision of whether or not to circumcise is closely linked to many cultural, religious and ethical beliefs and practices, the AAP policy statement instructs pediatricians to inform parents of the health benefits and risks of circumcision in an unbiased manner, and to leave the decision up to the parents.

via AAP News, Daily Mail and NPR