Recent reports indicate that more and more young patients, some still in their teens, are seeking out weight loss surgery as a method to shed the excess pounds that have been dramatically affecting their health and lifestyle. For individuals who are morbidly obese, bariatric surgery is a proven, long-term solution to help in losing excess weight. However, bariatric surgery is not a quick fix; rather it is an effective tool in the quest to improve a person’s health and quality of life and, like all tools, it must be used safely and effectively.
Obesity can leave affected individuals highly susceptible to many serious illnesses, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. For youngsters with many years of life ahead of them, this process can have devastating results. Unfortunately, with obesity rapidly becoming an epidemic among our nation’s youth, we are starting to see these illnesses develop at a much younger age. A generation ago, a patient in their 20’s having a heart attack was a rare event. Now with obesity on the rise, it has become much too common. And teenage diabetes is now a frequent diagnosis. For parents of children who are struggling with obesity, this isn’t a character issue nor is it a failure, it’s a social and health issue and it needs to be addressed.
For severely overweight people, the most effective method to lose weight may be bariatric surgery, or “weight loss surgery.” According to scientifically published reports, in 95% of cases significant weight loss through non-surgical programs is regained within 3 to 5 years. Contrast this with gastric bypass where most patients maintain the majority of weight loss indefinitely.
There are of course important factors to consider before a young adult should opt for surgical treatment to lose weight. Adolescents being considered for bariatric surgery should have attempted more that 6 months of medically supervised, non-surgical weight management. They should also be severely obese, with a BMI greater than 40 and have health problems associated with their obesity. Teenagers must have attained or nearly attained physical maturity in order to ensure that dramatic weight loss will not hinder bone growth. They must also show a commitment to medical and psychological evaluations both before surgery, and be capable and willing to adhere to nutritional recommendations and specialized adolescent counseling after surgery. It is also critical for adolescents to have a supportive family environment. If all these factors are met, an adolescent may be a good candidate for a bariatric procedure.
While bariatric surgery may set the stage for significant weight loss, it’s important to know that even surgical weight loss requires long-term lifestyle modification. The surgery provides a first step in a series of lifestyle changes designed to maximize the success of the operation in terms of improvements in health and an increase in the patients quality of life and lifestyle. Simply reducing the size one’s stomach is not enough; patients must adopt a new eating pattern, by eating high protein foods before filling up on carbohydrates. This will help to ensure proper nutrition since appetite will be reduced and the amount of food consumed is much less than before the surgery. In addition, exercise will greatly improve the overall health and metabolism after the majority of a person’s excess body fat is lost. Support groups, specifically designed by The N.E.W. Program team for adolescents, are an excellent way to adjust to a new lifestyle in the company of like-minded patients.
Of course, it is mandatory that all patients who undergo bariatric surgery be monitored throughout their lives with annual check-ups to ensure optimal postoperative weight loss, long term weight control and improved overall health. This is particularly important for adolescents, given the fact they have long, full lives ahead of them.
The N.E.W. Program has a dedicated adolescent weight loss program that includes lifestyle management as well as individual and group support.