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Doctors Discuss Potential Benefits of Teen Weight-Loss Surgery

According to some experts, teens with certain criteria may be viable candidates for bariatric surgery, a procedure for major weight loss in adults. One in four teens is obese and teen obesity is a serious public health concern, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Physicians have presented new evidence that a serious move such as weight-loss surgery may be beneficial and may save teens from a life of obesity and illness. “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,” states 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.”

Dr. Inge, lead author of the study, reviewed 61 teens and found that those with a very high body mass index (BMI) lost more than one-third of their weight after gastric bypass, although they remained heavy enough to still be considered morbidly obese.  Rather than waiting until teens have BMIs in the high 50s, 60s and 70s, Inge stated, “When we can get to these kids with BMIs in the 40s, we can have a decent chance of turning around their morbid obesity.”

Not every teen is an ideal candidate for weight-loss surgery, as bariatric surgery produces weight loss by restricting food intake and, in some cases, interfering with nutrition through malabsorption.  “Their bones need to be as close as possible to what they will possess in adulthood,” states Dr. Lori Laffel, chief of the pediatric, adolescent and young adult section at the Joslin Diabetes Center and an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

Additionally, teens should have a high level of emotional maturity and a supportive family environment to ensure weight-loss surgery is a success.

“There’s no question this gives you a remarkable jump-start,” according to Laffel.  “As the procedures get simple and safer, I think this will be more often considered.”

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