Weight-loss surgery and children

Obesity has become a serious health problem in children and adolescents.

  • A child who is overweight or obese is more likely to be overweight or obese as an adult.
  • Children with obesity are now developing health problems that used to be seen only in adults. When these problems begin in childhood, they often become more severe when the child becomes an adult.
  • A child who is overweight or obese is more likely to have a low self-esteem, poor grades in school, and depression.
  • About 15% of all children are obese.

Weight-loss Surgery and Teenagers

Adults who have weight-loss surgery are usually able to lose a large amount of weight. This weight loss can lead to better diabetes control, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and fewer sleep disorders.

After any weight-loss surgery, your child will:

  • Have a smaller stomach
  • Feel full or satisfied with less food
  • Not be able to eat as much as before

Teens can also lose weight after weight-loss surgery. In the United States, gastric bypass operations have been used with success in teenagers.

Adjustable gastric banding is another type of weight-loss surgery, but it is not yet approved for teenagers in the United States.

Both gastric bypass and gastric banding are performed through 5 - 6 small cuts on the belly. This is known as laparoscopic surgery.

Is Weight-loss Surgery Right for Your Child?

Most children that have weight-loss surgery also have a health condition that is related to the extra body weight.

The Body mass index (BMI) measures below are commonly used by doctors to decide which teens may be helped the most from weight-loss surgery. But not all doctors agree about this.

A BMI of 35 or higher, and a serious health condition related to obesity. These conditions are:

  • Diabetes (high blood sugar)
  • Pseudotumor cerebri (increased pressure inside the skull)
  • Moderate or severe sleep apnea (symptoms include daytime sleepiness and loud snoring, gasping, and holding breath while asleep)
  • Severe inflammation of the liver that is caused by excess fat

A BMI of 40 or higher, and a less serious health condition related to obesity. These conditions are:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Mild sleep apnea
  • Depression

Other things that should be present for a teen who is considering weight-loss surgery:

  • The child should be finished growing (usually 13-years-old or older for girls and 15-years-old or older for boys).
  • Parents and the teen must understand and be willing to follow the many changes in lifestyle they will all need to make after surgery.
  • The teen has not been able to lose weight while on a diet and exercise program for at least 6 months, while under the care of a physician.
  • The teen has not used any illegal substances (alcohol or drugs) during the 12 months before surgery.

Teens who have weight-loss surgery should receive care at an adolescent bariatric surgery center. There, a team of experts will give them the special care they need.

Is Weight-loss Surgery Safe for Teens?

Studies about adolescents who have had bariatric surgery suggest that these operations are at least as safe for adolescents as they are for adults. But not enough teenagers have been followed after their weight-loss surgery to know if there are any long-term effects on their future growth or development.

Teenagers’ bodies are still changing and developing. Because of the quick weight loss after surgery, they will need to be careful to get all of the nutrients and vitamins their bodies need.

Because gastric bypass surgery changes the way some nutrients are absorbed, teens who have weight-loss surgery will need to take certain vitamins and minerals for the rest of their life.

Update Date: 7/1/2011

Updated by: Alex Nagle, MD, Director of Bariatric Surgery, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Assistant Professor of Surgery, Division of Gastrointestinal & Oncologic Surgery, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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