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Teens and weight-loss surgery

Dr. Michael Snyder, director of the Teen Obesity Weight Loss Program at Rose Medical Center, states "This isn't just about having surgery and it's not some quick fix." He emphasizes that teens and their families will undergo extensive counseling on nutrition, psychology, and behavioral change in order to ensure patients are ready for the life-long commitment of weight-loss surgery.

Dr. Mark Wulkan, pediatric surgeon at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, agrees that weight-loss surgery can be beneficial to teens. Dr. Wulkan states that in teens with a BMI of more than 40, only about 5% are successful at losing the weight through diet and exercise alone. In many cases, living with the excess weight poses a greater health risk to a teen than having the surgery. Dr. Wulkan has performed bariatric surgery on many adolescents, including a 13-year-old whom he states was his "best patient." As a result of the surgeries, he has seen many cases of diabetes and high blood pressure resolve in teens.

Though some critics have expressed concern over performing such an operation on an individual who is still growing, Dr. Wulkan states that bariatric surgery is not performed on teens until they have reached 90% of their growth, and that because overweight teens typically mature early, they have often achieved their full height by the age of 13 or 14.

Other bariatric professionals, however, aren't so sure that surgery is the answer. Dr. Wendy Scinta, director of Medical Weight Loss of New York, believes that surgery should be a last resort for teens, and that patients and their families should first exhaust all non-surgical options. Though Dr. Scinta regularly treats obese teenagers, she has never recommended surgery for a teen and would do so only for patients weighing in excess of 600 pounds. Dr. Scinta believes that vitamin deficiencies caused by weight-loss surgery can have lifelong consequences for teens, who may not be mature enough to follow a strict supplement regimen.

Through nutrition coaching, behavior modification, metabolic therapies, and exercise, Dr. Scinta has helped patients lose in excess of 100 pounds and has also reversed cases of diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Dr. Scinta has also noticed that teenage patients who had stopped growing sometimes begin to develop again after losing weight, indicating that the early maturity may be more closely linked to the excess weight than doctors fully understand.

If your teen is overweight and is considering weight-loss surgery, make sure your child understands the risks and responsibilities involved. Though bariatric experts may not agree on the best methods for teens to lose weight, one thing they all agree on is that weight loss is a family affair. In order for teens to lose weight and make healthier lifestyle changes, they need the support and involvement of the entire family.

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