Teenagers who are obese might have the option of having bariatric surgery. Previously, this type of weight loss surgery was only offered to adults. Although it isn’t the best choice for every teenager, there are some teens who can greatly benefit from it.
The New York Times reported in February of 2017 that the number of adolescents who are overweight or obese has leveled off in recent years. But the number who are severely obese – heavy enough to qualify for bariatric surgery – has nearly doubled from 1999 to 2014. Previously, 5.2 percent of adolescents were severely obese. That number jumped to 10.2 percent.
Bariatric surgery is an operation that helps a person to lose weight by making changes to that person’s digestive system. There are different types of bariatric surgery. The most common ones are gastric band, gastric sleeve, and gastric bypass.
Seema Kumar, M.D., is a pediatric endocrinology consultant at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Dr. Kumar points out that children and adolescents who are severely obese can experience sleep apnea, diabetes, hypertension, cardiac hypertrophy and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.
In addition, severely obese teens tend to have a lower quality of life than their non-obese peers. Teens that are severely overweight have difficulty fitting into the desks at school, and walking from one class to another. Most adults can recall that teens aren’t always kind to each other. Overweight teens can be picked on, teased, or just plain ignored.
One criteria the Mayo Clinic uses to determine if a teen is a good candidate for bariatric surgery is the teen’s BMI (which must be 35 or over). The teen must also have adequate emotional maturity and stability to ensure competent decision making after the surgery and good adherence to medical follow-up. The teen must also have made an effort to try other forms of weight loss before resorting to bariatric surgery.
There are risks involved, of course, as one would expect from any surgical procedure. This is something parents will worry about perhaps more than their teens will.
Some teens (and adults) who have bariatric surgery believe that it will make their life perfect. They can verbalize all the risks, and rattle off the information about what eating will be like after the surgery. But, inside, some hope that bariatric surgery will be the magic cure for everything in their life that isn’t going well.
In reality, many teens who have bariatric surgery do find that their health has improved. They do lose weight and they gain energy (but they might not be as skinny as they’d hoped.) In their minds, they may still see themselves as “the biggest one in the room”. Social confidence doesn’t automatically appear after having the surgery.
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