Although the number of gastric bypass operations being performed every year is increasing as obesity rates rise in the West, a lot of people still feel that weight loss surgery is not the correct answer to obesity in teens.
Nonetheless, this may be changing and, while numbers are still small, teenage weight loss surgeries rose by three hundred percent between 2000 and 2003. In 2005 over 1,000 teenagers in the United States underwent weight loss surgery.
There are presently two issues for a lot of surgeons when it comes to performing surgery as a solution for obesity in teens. The first is whether or not surgery is safe at this age and the second is how teenage patients will do in the long term.
The question of the longer term results of surgery is of course one that will only be answered with time, when a large enough group of teenagers has had surgery and we have some meaningful statistics. During 2003 more than 105,000 weight loss operations were carried out but fewer than 800 of these operations were performed on teenagers. Even if we consider this to be a meaningful sample size from which to draw conclusions about the longer term effects of surgery, we will still have to wait many years before drawing such conclusions.
In terms of the success of the operation itself, teenagers appear to be very good candidates for surgery, needing shorter hospitalization, recovering fast and running into fewer problems during and after surgery. This is perhaps not surprising when you think that most teenagers go into surgery without the host of major medical conditions that are regularly seen in adults. Perhaps more important than anything else, the death rate from gastric bypass surgery in teenagers is considerably lower than that which is seen in adults.
As well as those concerns related to surgery itself there is also the question of whether or not we should be following a surgical route at all with adolescents.
Patients having weight loss surgery are required to make significant changes to their lifestyle and have to cope with a number of psychological issues both before and after surgery. It is hard enough to expect adults to deal with these issues, but many people question whether or not this a burden which we should be putting on children.
The evidence to hand at this point suggests that weight loss surgery is an effective answer to the problem of obesity in teens but more time is needed to gauge the long term effects of surgery and to look at the psychological aspects of surgery before this becomes a widespread answer to the problem of obesity in children.