While some doctors may be reluctant to perform weight loss surgery on teens, new studies suggest that this measure might help patients head off a lifetime of obesity.
“There’s certainly a feeling among health-care providers and families that little Johnny is really getting heavier and heavier, but all he needs to do is put his mind to it and he can reverse this,” said Dr. Thomas Inge, director of the Center for Bariatric Research and Innovation at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “But that is clearly not working for some kids. Until you bring up the option of bariatric surgery for those patients, you haven’t done your job as a doctor.”
Inge’s study of 61 teens found that those with very high body mass indexes (BMI) lost more than one-third of their weight after gastric bypass, but were still heavy enough to be considered morbidly obese.
“We are seeing patients…who are coming to us routinely with a BMI of the high 50s and 60s and 70s,” Inge said. “When we can get to these kids with BMIs in the 40s, we can have a decent chance of turning around their morbid obesity. When BMIs are higher than that, very often we can get their weight down, but they’re still going to remain morbidly obese even after treatment. Once they get into the high 50s and beyond, I think we’ve done the kid a disservice.”
Another small study of 50 severely obese Australian teenagers found that those who had weight loss surgery were much more successful in losing weight. Eighty-four percent of teens who had the surgery lost more than half their excess weight, while only 12 percent of the kids who tried dieting and exercise reached this goal.
Teens who are candidates for bariatric should have already undergone the majority of their linear growth, said Dr. Lori Laffel, chief of the pediatric, adolescent and young adult section at the Joslin Diabetes Center. That would limit weight loss surgery for the most part to girls older than 13 and boys older than 15, she said.
Laffel and Inge agreed that the teenager must also display a certain level of emotional maturity and have a supportive family. For more information, visit womenshealth.gov.