Nearly 20 percent of American youth are obese, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research. That means in a typical California classroom, one in five students is not just overweight, but obese.
In general, obesity is defined as someone whose body mass index (BMI) — their weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters — is too high. A high BMI can be an indicator of high body fat.
Adults with a BMI of 30 or higher are considered obese; for children and teens, though, BMI is age- and sex-specific based on growth charts for children and teens ages 2 through 19. On this scale, youth whose BMI is at or above the 95 percentile are considered obese.
Obesity in adolescents has skyrocketed since the 1970s, the CDC reports, naming calorie intake and energy imbalance as major factors contributing to the trend. Poor genetics, metabolism, and community and neighborhood design and safety also contribute, but ultimately today’s teens are consuming more and exercising (and sleeping!) less than they should in order to maintain a healthy weight.
While environment and lifestyle changes can be effective ways to lose weight, not everyone will see success with only nutrition management and a gym membership. In some cases, other weight loss options — such as bariatric surgery — can yield better results. This article explores questions many parents and patients have about weight loss surgery for teens, including benefits, risks, requirements and results.
Teen Weight Loss Surgery
About 1,000 American teenagers have bariatric surgeries a year, according to National Institutes of Health. The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) estimates that 200,000 adults undergo bariatric procedures annually in the US. With so few teenagers undergoing weight-loss surgery, doctors, parents and teens themselves are faced with the uncertain question: Do we take drastic measures proved to produce lasting weight loss success in adults, even though there’s limited research documenting the long-term effects in adolescents?
According to surgeons, weight-loss operations are just as safe in teenagers as they are in adults, with mortality rates reaching just 0.1 percent — making bariatric surgery safer than gallbladder surgery and joint replacement, reports the New York Times. And for overweight teens, the odds are ever in their favor when compared to what life looks like with obesity. Obese teens are susceptible to multiple health and social issues — including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, isolation and depression — all of which can be improved with surgery.
Types of Procedures
Gastric bypass surgery for weight loss was first performed in adults in the 1960s and in adolescents in the 1970s, reports the ASMBS. Today, weight loss candidates have multiple surgery options based on their health situations and backgrounds. The three main types of procedures include:
- Gastric Bypass: During this procedure, a small pouch is created at the top of the stomach. This pouch becomes the person’s new stomach. It holds less food, which helps the person feel full sooner. The pouch is then connected to the middle part of the small intestine, bypassing the upper part of the small intestine. This shortens the digestive tract, allowing fewer calories and nutrients to be absorbed, which helps the person to lose weight.
- Sleeve Gastrectomy: Also called gastric sleeve surgery, this is the most common weight loss procedure. During this surgery, part of the stomach is removed to make a much smaller, tube or sleeve-shaped stomach. The new stomach holds less food, but doesn’t affect how the body absorbs calories and nutrients.
- Laparoscopic Adjustable Gastric Banding: With the help of an adjustable silicone band, this procedure creates a small pouch at the top of the stomach. This reduces the amount of food a person can eat, but it doesn’t affect how the body absorbs calories and nutrients. Unlike the other procedures that are permanent, the gastric band can be adjusted or completely removed by a doctor, allowing the stomach to return to its normal size. Gastric band surgery is not yet FDA-approved for children younger than 18 years old, though some institutions perform the procedure using an off-label banding device.
Requirements for Weight Loss Surgery
In order to be a candidate for weight loss surgery, teens generally have to have a high BMI as well as an obesity-related health condition such as diabetes, fatty liver disease, pseudotumor cerebri or obstructive sleep apnea. Other general requirements may include but are not limited to:
- A history of obesity (three years or more)
- Several unsuccessful attempts at other weight-loss programs
- An understanding of the lifelong dietary commitment required after surgery
- Physical and emotional maturity
- Abstinence from substance abuse (for at least a year)
Benefits and Risks
As with any surgical procedure, there are potential risks such as infections, blood clots and bleeding. Additionally, depending on the bariatric surgery chosen, some patients develop nutritional deficiencies, such as low levels of iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium. Talk to your family doctor and weight-loss surgeon before undergoing any procedures, and follow their recommendations for avoiding or mitigating nutritional deficiencies.
The benefits of weight-loss surgery heavily outweigh the costs. Not only does bariatric surgery help people lose weight, but it can reduce the risk of heart disease. It can improve blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin levels. It can help eliminate sleep apnea. It can promote emotional well-being and quality of life. And recent data shows that it can cause a significant improvement or complete remission of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM).
Life is better when you’re healthy. If you or your teen are considering weight loss surgery, contact Soma Weight Loss for a free weight loss consultation, or call 855-766-2411.