Unfortunately, obesity is now no longer limited just to adults, with more and more teens suffering from the condition as well. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that some 18% of people between ages 12 and 19 are now overweight or obese. Being obese at this age causes both physical and mental health problems, including low self-esteem and high blood pressure. We are now at the point that parents feel there is no other option but to turn to weight loss surgery for their children. But is this a good idea?
A Lack of Studies in Teen Weight Loss Surgery
There is a significant danger with fitting adolescents with a gastric balloon, mainly being that there have been very few clinical studies in its long term effects. While the gastric balloon is less invasive than the gastric bypass and a temporary measure and therefore safer than the bypass, there is still no clinical data on whether it has effects on skeletal development and what the consequences of reduced nutrient absorption could be.
Minimally Invasive Procedures
Very few ethical surgeons will agree to complete gastric surgery on adolescents. However, the lap band and gastric balloon are becoming more commonplace. This is because these procedures are non-invasive and easy to adjust. As such, they offer a temporary, yet quick fix solution to teens who suffer from obesity. However, it is vital that teens who have this procedure completed are fully committed to changing their lifestyle in the long run, in fact permanently.
The gastric balloon is still quite a new procedure and it is not currently covered under Medicare, as there is no long term data available on any patients, adult or adolescent. However, it has existed in various other countries for a long time, where it has had very positive results. As such, it is becoming more popular here as well, and particularly for teens as the balloon only stays in place for six months.
Invasive Surgical Procedures
Only if a non-invasive procedure has not delivered the necessary results will a surgeon consider a more invasive procedure on adolescent patients. In these cases, either a gastric sleeve or a gastric bypass will be offered. These are permanent procedures in which the entire digestive system is changed, stopping it from absorbing certain nutrients and/or ensuring only small portions can be consumed.
With a gastric sleeve, around 80% of the stomach is actually taken out completely. The remaining stomach is much smaller, which means far less food can be consumed. This leads to very rapid weight loss. The gastric bypass, as the name suggests, bypasses certain elements of the digestive system. Both procedures encourage very rapid weight loss. However, they are complex and risky procedures and they are permanently life changing. Considering this as a treatment for an adolescent is a big decision to make, and one that should only be taken after significant counselling and after all other options and avenues have been properly explored.