Troubles Rare for Teens After Weight Loss Surgery

Teens seeking weight loss surgery rarely experienced major complications

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Obese adults sometimes choose weight loss surgery as a way to avoid the health risks that come with extra weight. New research suggests that weight loss surgery may be a safe option for severely obese teens as well.

A recent study examined severely obese teenagers who had been approved to undergo weight loss surgery.

The researchers found that many of the obese teenagers had heart problems and kidney problems before their weight loss surgery. During the immediate recovery period after surgery, few teens developed major complications.

The researchers emphasized the need for more research on the effects of weight loss surgery in young people, as childhood and youth obesity can lead to significant health risks.

"Explore weight loss options with your teen's doctor."

Thomas Inge, MD, PhD, of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, led this study to see if weight loss surgery was safe for teenagers.

Obesity has been linked to many health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure and bone problems. According to the researchers, the growing number of children who develop obesity has led to younger people developing obesity-related conditions.

Many doctors recommend weight loss surgery to severely obese adults in order to prevent and treat health complications.

During weight loss surgery, surgeons make the stomach smaller so that patients feel full after eating less food. The procedure involves wrapping a band around the stomach, removing a part of the stomach or re-routing the small intestine to a "pouch" created in the stomach.

Only a few studies have looked at the outcomes of young people after weight loss surgery.

For this study, the researchers recruited 242 individuals who were 19 years old or younger and who planned to undergo weight loss surgery.

The average age of the participants was 17.1 years old. The median BMI, or body mass index, was 50.5. A normal BMI is usually between 18.5 and 24.9. 

Medical professionals evaluated participants' health and any existing health conditions 30 days before each participant underwent surgery.

Each patient was monitored for the 30 days after surgery. The researchers noted any major complications, like damage to organs, that were life-threatening or required another surgery.

They also kept track of minor complications that required medical management or additional testing.

The researchers found that prior to surgery, about half of the participants had three or fewer other health conditions and 39 percent had as many as four or five. The conditions that were most common were high cholesterol, sleep apnea (pauses in breathing during sleep), back and joint pain and high blood pressure.

During the 30 days after surgery, 19 patients experienced 20 major complications. A total of 36 patients experienced 47 minor complications. None of the participants died.

Most of the complications took place before participants had been discharged from the hospital after surgery. Only 2.9 percent of the participants experienced major complications after they had been discharged.

In total, 92 percent of the obese teenagers underwent weight loss surgery without any major complications.

The authors of this study wrote that obesity in youth was associated with heart health risk factors, as well as early markers of kidney problems.

They concluded that major, life-threatening complications from weight loss surgery in teenagers were rare.

The authors wrote "These data demonstrated that 92 percent of the 242 severely obese adolescents who underwent WLS did so without major complications. This safety profile [...] was demonstrated despite the presence of significant comorbidities and severity of obesity that exceeded that of most published adult and adolescent bariatric studies.”

They also suggested that more research should be done on the behavioral and psychosocial effects of weight loss surgery on teens.

This study was published on November 4 in JAMA Pediatrics.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the National Institutes of Health. Some of the researchers reported receiving financial support for their research from pharmaceutical companies.

Review Date: 
November 4, 2013
Last Updated:
November 5, 2013