Teen Weight Loss Surgery Unhealthy for Many Reasons

By Brooke Randolph, LMHP - DietsInReview.com

I was very sad to read DietsInReview.com's new article More Obese Teens Turn to Gastric Band Surgery. Throughout the article, the author, Jason Knapfel, raises important concerns about this trend, starting with the fact that this surgery is not approved for anyone under 18 years of age. Although 18 is the age of majority in the United States, neurologically we continue development into our early- or mid-twenties. We may not be able to fully consider all the implications of major decisions or process information as efficiently until we have completed this neurological adolescence.

Elective surgery is a major decision that teens are not likely prepared to make for themselves. Not only does this decision include the risks of surgery, but it needs to include the behavior change that follows surgery. A very strict diet is required for at least six weeks following surgery to help the body heal. In addition, the stomach is only capable of holding about an ounce of food following this surgery. Gastric Band surgery itself does not cause weight loss, and if eating behavior does not change, there can be additional risks post-op.

I would hope that if an adolescent is undergoing such surgery, it is with the approval of a parent who has considered all the long term implications and will work with the teen to manage post-op behavior, but I am afraid that is not always true. Will families support their teens by changing the diet of the entire family? Will all off-limit and tempting food be removed from the home? Has the family tried to change diet and physical activity before choosing surgery?

Another major concern that I have is the fact that such surgeries are being performed on young adolescents whose bodies are still developing and changing. Surgery is a stress on the body; energy that is being used to heal is not being used for growth and development. Was this really the best option for 590 teens between 2005 and 2007?

When teens are electing surgery, a parent or guardian needs to be central in the decision-making process. Mental health evaluations and follow-up care is essential. Surgery may be a physical stress, but recovery and the behavior change that follows is an emotional stress that most teens are not prepared to handle on their own. Many adults are not prepared to handle such drastic behavior changes without support!

A psychological evaluation may be included in preparation for surgery, but is follow-up therapy required? For the change to be successful, friends and family need to be included in the treatment to learn how they can support the behavior change and create a healthy environment that supports life change. If such things had occurred previously, would surgery even be necessary?

Learn more in these related stories:

Talking to Your Teen About Health

Suicide Risk Increases for Overweight Teens

Brain Surgery for Obesity is a Reality

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