Children’s Health: Obesity surgery is safe for severely overweight teens

Gastric bypass can help tackle diabetes, nighttime breathing problems and high blood pressure

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Stomach reduction surgery is a safe and effective method of treating obesity-related health problems in teens, according to a small U.S. study.

Dr. Marc Michalsky and his colleagues at Columbus Children’s Hospital and Ohio State University studied five teens, average age 18 years, who had been categorized as “super morbidly obese” and were so heavy they were suffering from health problems that more commonly afflict adults.

The teens had a surgical procedure called gastric bypass, in which staples or a plastic band are used to isolate a small portion of the stomach and connect it directly to the middle part of the small intestine.

Before surgery, three teens had nighttime breathing problems, four had diabetes and four had high blood pressure. Twenty weeks after surgery, just one had nighttime breathing problems and none had diabetes or high blood pressure.

While obesity surgery is performed less frequently in adolescents compared with adults, its use is increasing because obesity is becoming more common in the teenage years. Michalsky says the Columbus Children’s Hospital performed 10 of these procedures in adolescents last year, whereas by the end of this year it expects to perform between 40 and 50.

Because of that increased use, it is important to know that the procedure is safe and effective, he says. “I think the argument for this type of intervention is to get at these (obesity-related health problems) while they are still reversible.”