Q: Weight has always been an issue in our family, and I am growing concerned about my 15-year-old son. I'm afraid if we don't do something now, he will end up with a lifetime of weight-related problems. Is weight-loss surgery an option for teens?
A: Bariatric surgery is definitely an option for teenagers, provided they fully understand the lifestyle and health changes that come with it and have a strong support system. While some people think bariatric surgery is the easy way out when it comes to losing weight, that's simply not true. The patient must make a lifelong commitment to supporting their body's needs following bariatric surgery, and that isn't always easy.
For teens, several recent studies show that minimally invasive bariatric surgery, such as the gastric sleeve, is very effective. In these studies, the teens who underwent bariatric surgery lost an average of 25 percent of their body weight. Their reduction in body weight led to improvements in conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and snoring. In most patients, these kinds of conditions go away after surgery — and some (such as diabetes) usually resolve immediately after surgery, even before weight loss, showing that the surgery helps improve the underlying disease aspect.
Talk to your son's pediatrician about your concerns, and ask for a referral to a bariatric surgeon who works with teens. Surgery may not be the bariatric surgeon's first line of action. He or she may want to try medications and other programs first, but a bariatric surgeon is someone you want on your son's health-care team.
— Dr. Joani Jack, medical director of Childhood Healthy Eating and Active Living Center at Children's Hospital at Erlanger