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Why Are Thousands of Teens Having (Unapproved!) Weight-Loss Surgery?

Illustration for article titled Why Are Thousands of Teens Having (Unapproved!) Weight-Loss Surgery?

Weight-loss surgery surges among California kids, especially white girls. That was the headline on a story in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times. Before I continue, let’s pause for a minute and say a prayer for their misguided parents . . . Amen.


Now: What in the hell were the parents thinking? Bariatric surgery IS NOT approved for youth, and yet researchers found that between 2005 and 2007, 590 adolescents – those ages 13-20 – underwent the surgery in California. I’m willing to bet the actual number is much higher, because money talks – and can buy silence.

Here’s the full text of the study, published in this week’s Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Key points (emphases and links mine):

·        Overall, 590 adolescents underwent bariatric surgery in 86 hospitals. White adolescents represented 28% of those who were overweight but accounted for 65% of the procedures.


·        4.8% of those who had the lap-band procedure had to have the bands adjusted or removed. 2.9% of those who had the more complicated gastric-bypass procedure required reoperations.

·         No deaths were reported, thank God.

I won’t insult your intelligence. You know bariatric surgery isn’t like removing an appendix; that it sometimes results in death. As for the racial aspect, the newspaper article stated, “If all overweight children had equal access to such surgery, 165 of those procedures would have been on white adolescents and 425 would have been performed on young African-American patients. But researchers found that 384 adolescents getting the procedures during the study period were white.”

According the study, those who paid out of pocket were more likely to undergo the lap-band procedure than the privately insured. It costs less, but is also less invasive and supposed to be reversible.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand the appeal of weight-loss surgery. It certainly seems like an easier way to repair years of unhealthy lifestyle choices. But as I’ve said before, my preference is to make the necessary lifestyle changes to achieve even better results, and that means committing to eating healthier, exercising more and, hopefully, being a positive example to others, especially the 80 percent of African-American women who are right now overweight or obese. No, it’s not easy. Of course, I’ve had setbacks. Absolutely, I’m staying the course.


Allowing adolescents to have this surgery is a terrible idea. Why? Geez, so many reasons, beginning with surgery should only be an option of last resort, and ending with the long list of adverse side effects of bariatric surgery. And hey, if your child is 400 pounds and you believe you’ve tried everything, go for it. I wonder, though, what decisions were made when his or her weight was 175, 200 or 225. What options were available? What medical advice was offered, if any?

Is obesity the real problem, or a symptom? Surgery does not address the issues that caused the obesity in the first place.


Teens set trends, and this is a scary one. What concerns me is that teens set trends. According to the California researchers, over the course of the two-year study, rates of the lap-band procedure in this age group increased fivefold. Makes you wonder what the numbers are now.

Do you think we’re setting up our kids for failure when we choose surgery over a more personally responsible way to lose weight and eat healthy? Are parents not responsible because hormones in our food, huge restaurant servings and constant advertising of high-fat “food” stacking the deck against us? What’s really at stake here?


Let me hear you.

One in three kids is overweight or obese, and we're spending $150 billion a year treating obesity-related illnesses. So we know this is a problem, and there's a lot at stake. ~  Michelle Obama


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Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur who blogs daily for TheRoot. She lives in Raleigh, NC.

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