Adolescent and Young Adults Bariatric Surgery

Dr. Jacobs’ Key Points

  • Adolescent bariatric surgery in a well-chosen patient can improve quality of life and reduce risk factors for adult metabolic disease.
  • Adherence to the post-operative lifestyle change is surprisingly strong in adolescent patients.
  • Concerns about growth and the developing body are legitimate but are well managed with proper follow-up care and nutritional supplementation.
  • In a specialized weight loss center, bariatric surgery in these populations is effective, safe, and long-lasting.
  • Weight loss medications are an option, but we don’t know their long-term effects.

While most patients who have surgery for excess weight or obesity are middle-aged adults, there is a growing number of adolescents and young adults in the United States and worldwide who may benefit from the results of a successful bariatric procedure. While Dr. Jacobs has performed surgery on individuals as young as 12 years old, we typically consider adolescents and young adults over the age of 16 in our practice.

The Benefits of Bariatric Surgery to Adolescent and Young Adults

While many would argue that children and young adults, 16 and over, should get more outside play time and improve their diets, we all can relate to the modern reality that this will not happen in all cases. Much like adults, it gets more and more challenging to lose weight the more obese the individual becomes. Eventually, the difficulties they experience have enough of an emotional and physical toll that non-surgical options go out the window.

Like adults, adolescent patients can derive significant benefits from bariatric surgery. While comorbidities generally have less severe immediate consequences in adolescents, they set the patient up for adulthood with many more medical problems from a younger age. In adolescents, like adults, we see significant improvements in high cholesterol, hypertension, pre-diabetes, and, in some cases, full-blown diabetes, improved psychological and physical effects as they begin to play sports again and have less concern about teasing and bullying in school.

While the physical markers of metabolic disease may not yet have manifested in all these adolescents, the physical scars are beginning to form. Their underlying problem usually stems from a lack of self-esteem, loneliness (it’s hard to make friends when they are obese), and bullying. Weight loss through bariatric surgery changes their outlook and future in just a few months. They lose weight and their psychological (and thus social) world changes. For the adolescent patient, this is usually more important than other underlying issues, which also are resolved by weight loss.

To this end, adolescent bariatric surgery often represents a preventative measure, physically, and a genuine treatment option for mental health concerns.

Will Kids Follow Postoperative Protocol?

As to whether adolescents and young adults will follow their postoperative instructions, the short answer is that they often do. As they lose weight, they start to feel better. They join their friends and perform many activities they couldn’t do before. They often desire to catch up for lost time and enjoy exciting new activities. As such, this has convinced us that adolescents and young adults are some of the best patients despite the common thinking that they may be too immature for their responsibilities after surgery.

What About Weight Loss Medications?

Weight loss medication can certainly be used in adolescent young adults, but the more significant concern is the length of time that these individuals will have to take it. We have yet to learn about the long-term effects of these weight loss medications on young people, especially if they have to take them for 30 or 40 years or more. On the other hand, bariatric surgery is very predictable in young patients, who typically enjoy the benefits over the long term.

No matter how adolescent and young adult obesity is approached, the most important is to intervene as early as possible. Call us to learn more about our adolescent obesity treatment program.