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October 28, 2019

Bariatric surgery found safe for teens with morbid obesity, Penn research finds

Children's Health Obesity

Penn Medicine researchers analyzed more than 3,500 cases of bariatric surgery performed on morbidly obese teenagers, finding that surgical interventions are a safe intervention for children at risk of heart disease and stroke.

Bariatric surgery to mitigate the health dangers of morbid obesity is a safe procedure for teenagers who may benefit from earlier intervention, according to Penn Medicine researchers.

Surgical approaches to address morbid obesity are done to reduce the likelihood of serious conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

“As the rate of childhood obesity continues to increase, it’s critical for us to identify whether weight loss procedures that are frequently performed on adults are also safe and effective options for adolescents and teens,” said Robert A. Swendiman, a general surgery resident at Penn Medicine and the senior author of a study on bariatric surgery outcomes.

Nearly five million adolescents between 10 and 17 years old in the United States have been diagnosed with obesity. Those with a body mass index (BMI) in the 99th percentile face a particularly high risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Despite the growing numbers of obese children, less than one percent of them end up receiving surgical weight loss procedures each year.

Penn researchers analyzed more than 3,700 cases involving patients aged 10 to 19 who underwent minimally invasive (laparoscopic or robotic) Roux-en-Y gastric bypass or sleeve gastrectomy, which involves removing part of the stomach to make it smaller.

The study found that very few of these patients experienced complications (1.4%), readmissions (3.5%) or reoperations (1%), suggesting these patients are strong candidates for bariatric surgery. Increasingly, these patients are opting for sleeve gastrectomy over Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, which tends to have a higher rate of complication.

The study also suggests that prospective patients need not wait until their BMI reaches the highest percentile.

“We found no evidence that higher BMI was associated with an increased likelihood of poor health outcomes following adolescent bariatric surgery,” Swendiman said. “In fact, our findings suggest that more readily referring patients with lower BMIs for surgery, rather than delaying consideration of surgery until adolescents develop worsening obesity, may prevent patients from suffering the severe health conditions associated with long-term obesity.”

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