Weight Loss Surgery for Teenagers

Today’s NY Times article about using bariatric surgery for teenagers is very upsetting to me. I am deeply concerned about turning to surgery with young people as an answer to obesity. I know full well what it can feel like to be fat, to be made fun of, and to hate your body as a teenager. Surgery, surgery, surgery???

So much can be done from a food and counseling standpoint. I am not a healthcare practitioner (and this article is purely my opinion), but as an integrative health coach and hypnotist, I know that teenagers can be excellent clients for hypnosis. They come without the baggage we get as we mature. They are curious, open, and unafraid. Working with them to understand their relationship with food, appropriate naturopathic or functional medicine professionals identifying the root cause of any physical issues, working with a therapist alongside a dietitian and nutrition program and perhaps hypnosis surely can be attempted before SURGERY.

Maynestreet Weight Loss & Wellness

Here at Maynestreet Weight Loss & Wellness we have clients who come to us years after bariatric surgery who are gaining their weight back because no follow-up coaching for lifestyle changes and issues with food was ever given after surgery. That doesn’t even touch on those who have medical issues resulting from the surgery.

If you or someone you know is considering this for their teenager, please have them consider other professional resources before surgery.

Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery, commonly called weight-loss surgery, is a group of procedures designed to help individuals with severe obesity lose weight. While it’s typically considered for adults, in recent years, there’s been a rise in these surgeries being performed on children under the age of 16. This trend is controversial, given the significant risks and the complex needs of growing children.

The dangers for children undergoing bariatric surgery are multifaceted:

  1. Nutritional Deficiencies: Children’s bodies are still developing, and they need essential nutrients to grow properly. Bariatric surgery can lead to malabsorption, which may result in deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, potentially impacting a child’s growth and development. This can also lead to further health issues down the road.
  2. Psychological Impact: The significant and rapid weight loss following surgery can have psychological effects. Children may struggle with their self-image and face challenges in adapting to their new body and lifestyle. There is so much involved with our relationship with food. Children need to deal with the rapid weight loss, the social impact of eating very differently from their peers, and the fear that the weight will return. How will they deal with the emotional challenges during these teenage years?
  3. Surgical Risks: As with any major surgery, there are risks of complications such as bleeding, infection, and adverse reactions to anesthesia. The long-term risks, including bowel obstruction and hernias, are also concerns. I know someone who has gone through so much after this surgery.
  4. Impact on Growth: There needs to be long-term data on how bariatric surgery affects a child’s growth. Altering the gastrointestinal system can have unknown effects on a child’s still-developing body.
  5. Behavioral Modification: Surgery doesn’t address the behavioral, environmental, and psychological factors contributing to obesity. Children might only adopt the necessary lifestyle changes with proper support to maintain weight loss. Herein lies the key, just as it does for our clients: understanding your relationship with food and replacing habits that do not serve you with those that do.

Given these risks, any consideration of bariatric surgery for children under 16 must involve a comprehensive evaluation by a multidisciplinary team. This team should include pediatricians, nutritionists, psychologists, and surgeons experienced in pediatric care. Moreover, the child’s family must be closely involved in the decision-making process and committed to supporting the child post-surgery. This is so important to ensure the child’s ongoing physical, mental, psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Bariatric surgery for children should be considered a last resort when all other interventions have failed and the child’s health is at immediate risk. It’s not a quick fix but a tool that a patient must use alongside lifestyle changes and with a clear understanding of the potential risks and benefits. I hope doctors and surgeons take all of this very seriously when considering bariatric surgery for teenagers.