Patients for Bariatric Surgery are Getting Younger & Younger
In November, the Healthcare Professionals Network wrote a blog post about early pharmacotherapy for obese teens.
The piece quoted figures from a Swedish study showed that lifestyle interventions only helped 2% of obese teens to achieve meaningful weight loss. And that although controversial, teen bariatric surgery could produce an overall reduction in body mass index (BMI) by 30-40%, with effects as long as two years after the procedure.
For teens struggling with obesity and the parents who are witness to their suffering, bariatric surgery may be a logical solution after trying other avenues.
Take for instance the case of Alexis Shapiro, the 12-year-old Texan who underwent sleeve gastrectomy surgery this year after suffering medically induced obesity that caused her to balloon past 200 pounds.
Shapiro is now 50 pounds lighter, back at school after a hiatus of two years, and able to join her siblings in the swimming pool. She still suffers from an adrenal imbalance that requires an injection minutes after symptoms appear, to avoid shock or coma. But the pre-teen is thriving, much more than before the operation.
“Seven months ago, we were a family struggling each and every day to keep Alexis’ quality of life the best we could,” said her mother Janet Shapiro in an update on the Cincinnati Children’s blog.
“Not only has she gained her independence, but I also have too. The sleeve gastrectomy gave [Alexis] back her health.”
Statistics on obese teens in the US
Surprisingly, weight loss surgery on teens is not that new. Procedures have been performed on small groups of adolescents since the late 1970s, said a March 2014 study by Stavra A. Xanthakos, MD, and Thomas H. Hinge, MD featured in medical research site Up To Date.
Severe obesity in children is defined as having a BMI that is either ≥120 percent of the 95th percentile or ≥35 kg/m². According to Xanthakos and Hinge, approximately 6.3 percent of adolescents 12 to 17 years old in the USA are severely obese and will almost always remain in the obese range as adults.
“They have a significantly greater prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors as compared with children with lesser degrees of obesity, and will have more health complications and higher mortality as compared with those who developed obesity during adulthood,” said the authors.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates a staged approach to weight management, comprising behavioral techniques, improving food intake and increasing energy expenditure.
How to know if your teen is ready for bariatric surgery
Considering bariatric surgery for an obese teen is not just the last resort after all attempts have failed.
Bariatric surgery isn’t like removing your wisdom teeth. Long-term success requires behavioral change, commitment, and a strong support system. How teens adjust to their new selves and assimilate with their peers after a life-changing procedure can be traumatic without a solid foundation.
Shapiro’s family had been solidly behind the decision for Alexis to undergo the procedure and had been there for her since the beginning. Teens who do not have the same type of support or who may lack the emotional maturity required for bariatric surgery should pursue other alternatives, said Minnesota’s Aaron S. Kelly, Ph.D., and his colleagues in a piece for Circulation: The Journal of the American Heart Association.
If your child is suffering from obesity – seek the help of professionals is it a board-certified bariatric surgeon, psychiatrist, psychologist, or your child’s pediatrician to set your child on the right course to a healthy life.