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When Weight-Loss Surgery Is the Best Solution for Teens

Signing your teenager on for weight-loss surgery can seem extreme, but it might be the best route to helping your obese child reach a healthy weight.


The benefits have been so clearly proven that the Academy of Pediatrics now supports this action when other options have failed.


The Last Stop. And It’s Effective

Weight-loss surgery, also known as bariatric surgery, is a tool that might be right for your child.


By the time you bring your child in for a consultation, you will likely have tried several other pediatric-centered steps toward weight loss, including:

  • Gastroenterology exams
  • Psychological consultations
  • Dietary changes
  • Regular exercise
  • Medical treatments


Weight-loss surgery is the last stop, and it’s a rare choice: Although as many as 20 percent more adolescents receive the surgery every year, they still account for only a fraction of the 1 percent of Americans who have these procedures each year.


If your teen hasn’t been able to attain a BMI that’s below the 85th percentile for peers the same gender and age, you’re looking at high blood pressure, snoring, diabetes and sleep apnea — plus many more health risks as an adult. This is your final option, and it is effective.


Why Sleeve Gastrectomy Is Often Best

Doctors perform several types of weight-loss surgeries, which each have a set of benefits. For teens — even those who are still growing — sleeve gastrectomy is the most conservative and best choice.


With sleeve gastrectomy, the stomach will be made so small that it will hold at most one cup of food. That limits how much your child can eat at one time.


To decrease the stomach size, surgeons use a robotic machine, plus small incisions together with special cameras. It is less invasive than major surgeries and requires only one night in the hospital.


As a result, your child will have a smaller stomach, feel less hunger and eat less food. Those together will lead to shedding pounds. Also important:  Following sleeve gastrectomy, your teen will still absorb nutrients; that is not the case following all bariatric procedures.


You’ll still need to insist your teen take large doses of vitamins post-surgery for a year and a half, but that’s it. That will keep them in good shape while their bodies go into starvation mode, which happens when weight drops quickly. Still, it’s best to be realistic and realize that it’s not a good idea to commit a child to needing megadoses of vitamins when they go off to college and through the rest of their lives.


Pros and Cons of Weight-Loss Surgery for Teens

Nearly 20 percent of American children — 1.4 million — are obese and very obese. The medical community agrees that, when all else fails, weight-loss surgery is a tried-and-proven route to getting children back on track so they can thin down, be healthy, be more socially accepted and live happier lives. In fact, many 11th-grade girls opt for this solution so they can enjoy their final year of high school and start a fresh new life upon graduation.


Here are some barriers to consider:

  • Insurance may not cover your costs. Despite medical consensus about the benefits of weight-loss surgery for obese teens, and about the emotional harm obesity-related bullying may cause, your insurance policy might not pay for the procedure.
  • Potential bone loss. Studies have shown that children who have bariatric surgery might experience bone loss. That is not the case with sleeve gastrectomy, since patients continue to absorb nutrients from the foods they eat going forward.
  • It’s a family affair. Agreeing to weight-loss surgery for your child means the whole family must get involved. Everyone needs to change their food choices to give the patient a higher chance of success. Often, all the children in a family benefit. Once the parents bring their oldest child in for a bariatric solution, they institute wellness lifestyle changes that help younger siblings stay thinner than they might otherwise.


If you choose this route with your teen, you’ll hear others call weight-loss surgery an easy way out. That’s not true. Together with lifestyle changes, it’s a tool that will lead to a healthier and happier life for your teenager.

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