The amount of severely obese teenagers, carrying 100 pounds or more than the ideal weight, has doubled to 10% in the past 15 years. Chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea associated with obesity could all be avoided with proper bariatric surgery at a young age. Dr. Thomas Inge, Chief of Pediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital in Colorado, says it is sometimes unrealistic to think children will simply lose weight by growing up. 

Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and faculty at Harvard Medical School, agrees with Dr. Inge, stating that in some cases reducing calories and increasing exercise is not enough to be the solution. Certain teenagers require multiple treatments including behavioral changes, such as diet or exercise, but they also may need surgery.

According to Dr. Stanford, teenage patients who undergo surgery have an average body mass index of 54. The average BMI for an adult surgery candidate is a full 10 points lower at 44.  This year 200,000 weight loss surgeries will be performed, but teenager patients will account for only 1,000 of those. 

The psychological toll of teenage obesity should not be forgotten among the other health hazards. In school, issues fitting into desks, walking from class to class, especially involving stairs in a set amount of time, or sitting on cafeteria seats can all be daily challenges, according to Dr. Meg Zeller, Professor of Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The struggle commonly associated with adult severe obesity is the inability to fit in an airplane seat. But that’s a relatively infrequent occurrence compared to the everyday difficulty and judgment that can come from being overweight in the education system. 

There are, of course, side effects associated with bariatric surgery and they should not be overlooked. A portion of the gut is removed, meaning many patients have nutritional issues. But, this may be a worthwhile sacrifice in the lives of some teens. For teenagers who have struggled with the consequences of obesity virtually their entire lives, Dr. Inge concludes that it gives them the opportunity to transition into adulthood with much greater freedom and confidence. 

Guests:

  • Dr. Thomas Inge, Chief of Pediatric Surgery, Children’s Hospital Colorado and Professor of Surgery, University of Colorado-Denver
  • Dr. Fatima Cody Standford, obesity medicine physician, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School
  • Dr. Meg Zeller, Professor of Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

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