Bariatric Surgery and Adolescents: Weighing the Risks Against the Benefits

The number of adolescents who are overweight or obese has leveled off in recent years, but unfortunately, the number who are severely obese — heavy enough to qualify for bariatric surgery — nearly doubled from 1999 to 2014. As a result, more doctors and parents are facing an extremely difficult dilemma: Should morbidly obese teenagers have bariatric surgery?

While surgery is the only thing that seems to work for these kids, the idea of weight-loss surgery for teens fills many parents and doctors with trepidation because we must weigh the benefits against the potential problems. Which is worse, risks from surgery or the likelihood of serious health risks from remaining obese?

An estimated three to four million adolescents are heavy enough to meet the criteria for bariatric surgery, but only about 1,000 teenagers per year undergo the surgery. Some medical centers will not perform it on teenagers, and many pediatricians never mention it to their heavy patients.

Obesity carries serious health risks in teenagers — including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, acid reflux, fatty liver and high cholesterol levels — that tend to be eased by surgery. Other health problems associated with obesity in teens include asthma, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and skin fungal infections.

Added to that are social and mental health problems, including isolation and depression. Obesity in teens is associated with significant mental and physical challenges.

According to the Surgeon General, overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. The likelihood increases to 80% if one or both parents are overweight or obese.

In the past, teenagers had two options:

  1. Lose weight by changing diet and exercise habits
  2. Live with current and future consequences of obesity

While the first option is ideal, unfortunately it is not effective for as many as 70% of teens who try it. However, as advances in weight loss surgery for adults have reduced complication and mortality rates, more teens – and their doctors – have begun exploring surgery as a valid option.

If you’d like to learn more about bariatric surgery options and if it might be right for you, contact us for a consultation. Visit https://bit.ly/2GePjXn for contact options and information.

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