If your teenager is morbidly obese, you may be investigating weight loss surgery as a possible treatment. Because co-morbid conditions like hypertension, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea, as well as social isolation and low self-esteem, can result from even short-term obesity, sparing teens these medical and emotional problems is a top priority.
However, because teenagers are still growing, their systems can be affected differently by surgery than those of full-grown adults. Weight loss surgeries such as gastric bypass affect the absorption of nutrients. For teens whose bones and brain and are still developing, nutritional deficiency can have far-reaching effects. Bone development is a particular concern, and researchers urge practitioners to carefully monitor bone mass in teenagers post-op.
Another concern is the drastic lifestyle change that teens undergoing surgery will be required to make- for the rest of their lives. Eating small amounts of food and taking vitamin and mineral supplements daily is essential to good health and weight loss success post-op. The usual risks associated with any type of surgery, including hernia, infection, and blood clots, should also be leveraged with the health concerns in the presenting teenager.
When Surgery Is Recommended
In the case of teens for whom doctors do recommend surgery, specific criteria must be met. These include:
Previous attempts at weight loss: Teens and their parents must be able to prove that they have attempted to lose weight for at least six months without success.
BMI proving “Morbid obesity”: While long-term studies on weight loss surgery for teenagers are being conducted, the New England Journal of Medicine recommends that surgery be reserved for those with a BMI of at least 40 and coexisting conditions, or a BMI of 50 + in the absence of other medical problems.
Emotional and mental maturity: Teens in question must present as responsible and able to make decisions for themselves.
Supportive family life: A strong network of caring family members and close friends is essential for the healthy support of a teenager as he or she undertakes a weight loss surgery journey.
No untreated mental health concerns: Presenting teen must either be free of an eating disorder or psychiatric illness or prove that she is being consistently and successfully treated for said condition.
Procedure performed at a well-staffed facility: Supportive staff members, including psychologists, dieticians, and patient advocates help teens adjust to lifestyle changes and integrate them successfully into a healthier lifestyle.
If your teen is obese and has made many attempts to lose weight without success, weight loss surgery may be the best course of action. Consider the above criteria, discuss with your primary care doctor, and be sure to attend a seminar with your teen to see what program would best meet his or her needs.