While the number of gastric bypass surgeries being performed each year is going up as obesity rates continue to rise in most western countries, a lot of people still believe that surgery is not the right solution for obesity in teens. Nonetheless, this could be changing and, although numbers are still relatively small, teenage gastric bypass surgeries increased by 300% between 2000 and 2003.
There are presently two considerations for most surgeons when it comes to surgery as an answer to the problem of obesity in teenagers. The first issue is whether or not surgery is safe in this age group and the second issue is how adolescent patients will fare in the long term.
The question of the long term effects of weight loss surgery is of course one which will only be answered with time, when a large enough group of teenagers has had surgery and we have produced some meaningful statistics. During 2003 in excess of 105,000 gastric bypass operations were performed but fewer than 800 of these operations were carried out on teenage patients. Even if we consider this to be a meaningful sample size from which we can draw conclusions about the long term effects of surgery, we still have to wait many years before drawing such conclusions.
As far as the success of the procedure itself is concerned, teenagers have proved to be excellent candidates for surgery, requiring shorter hospitalization, recovering quickly and demonstrating fewer problems both during and following surgery. This is not surprising when you think that most teenagers go into surgery without the many medical conditions that are frequently seen in adults. Perhaps most important of all, the death rate from gastric bypass surgery among teenagers is a lot less than that seen in adults.
As well as those concerns related to surgery itself there is also the wider question of whether or not we should be looking at surgery at all with adolescents. Patients having gastric bypass surgery have to make considerable changes to their lifestyle and have to deal with a number of psychological issues both prior to and following surgery. It is hard enough to ask adults to tackle these issues, but a lot of people are asking whether or not this a burden that we should be putting on teenagers.
The evidence to hand at this point suggests that weight loss surgery is an effective answer to the problem of obesity in teenagers but more time is needed to assess the long term effects of surgery and to study the psychological aspects of surgery before this can become a widespread solution to the problem of obesity in youngsters.