More teens, young adults turn to surgery as answer to obesity

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Researchers say the number of teens turning to bariatric surgery is on the rise. With the number of severely obese adolescents nearly doubling from 1999 to 2014, more doctors, parents and patients are turning to surgery as the solution.

"It's gaining in popularity," explained WakeMed Pediatric Surgeon Dr. George Wadie. "In 2003, in the U.S., bariatric surgery in adolescence was first started at that time and maybe in the whole U.S. about 500 cases were done over a year. Right now, it's almost 3,000."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity affects nearly 14 million children and adolescents in the U.S. For some--those who have already spent time working closely with doctors and healthcare providers to try to lose the weight--surgery may be the only thing that can help them avoid the serious health risks that come from remaining obese.

"We are seeing a lot of these health conditions that used to be in adults we're seeing in kids," explained Dr. Samareh Hill, a WakeMed Pediatric Obesity Specialist board certified in obesity medicine.

In Raleigh, WakeMed has a dedicated pediatric weight management clinic.

"Things like diabetes or pre-diabetes, blood pressure or high cholesterol, sleep apnea, bone deformities that need surgery from excess weight on the child's frame and mental health conditions. Kids are being teased and bullied from excess weight and that leads to depression, low self esteem so their whole quality of life is affected by their weight," Hill said.

The serious health risks from remaining obese is the reason 18 year old "Ben" had the surgery in August 2018. After working with the WakeMed Pediatric Weight Management Clinic for a year, Ben and his doctors believed the benefits would outweigh the risks for him. He was 18 at the time and almost 300 pounds.

"I think it's good I was able to do this while I was young rather than older," Ben said. "If anything, I feel like it would be better to do it while you're young rather than once I'm older."

There are two published studies showing outcomes after five years, but, critics believe more long-term studies need to be done. Insurance companies often turn down initial requests for the operation, but, it is possible to get the procedure covered after working closely with doctors for weight management.

"People in general need to know this is an option," Wadie explained . "It's a tool in a big box of tools. We try the simple things first but if it doesn't work especially with these patients who are super obese, literature and published articles show these patients do not usually do well with just dieting and exercise."

"I think this is an option to be offered," Wadie said. "You have to consider it's not taboo, not a fearful beast, it can be done and you go home next day."
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