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Teens may benefit from early weight-loss surgery

An empty pair of jeans surrounded by a tape measure at the waist.

June 11, 2019—For people with severe obesity, bariatric surgery can have significant health benefits—like lower blood pressure and better blood sugar levels. In fact, for some people, the surgery works so well it actually sends high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes into remission.

Now, a new study suggests that teens may benefit even more than adults by having bariatric surgery while they're still young.

Long-lasting benefits

Researchers followed over 500 teens and adults who had gastric bypass procedures. Gastric bypass is just one type of weight-loss surgery.

Some of the study participants had type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure before their surgery.

Teens and adults lost about the same amount of weight after surgery. But teens were much more likely than adults to see their diabetes or high blood pressure go away—and stay away five years after surgery.

Compared to the adults, teens were:

  • More likely to have normal blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
  • Less likely to need diabetes or blood pressure drugs.

Not without risks

Teens were also more likely than adults to face certain problems after the surgery, such as:

  • The need for future abdominal surgeries, such as gallbladder surgery.
  • Low iron and vitamin D levels. This may have been a result of not taking enough of the needed supplements after surgery.

And although death rates were similar between the two groups, two of the teens died of a drug overdose. That could simply be because overdose rates are rising throughout the U.S. But it's significant because a previous study found that adults who've had weight-loss surgery may have an increased risk of substance use disorders.

Despite this, the research team said the health benefits of weight-loss surgery will likely be greater than the risks for many teens.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Could surgery help your teen?

That's a question you need to ask your teen's doctor. Not all weight-loss surgeries provide the same benefits. And not every teen who's overweight is a candidate for surgery.

It may be an option for some teens who have a body mass index of 35 or more along with weight-related health problems, like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or severe sleep apnea (breathing pauses during sleep). Weight-loss surgery also requires a commitment to major lifestyle changes. So it's important to consider carefully before making a decision.

Why worry about diabetes?

Diabetes affects your whole body. And it can cause head-to-toe health problems. See how it can damage the body, in this infographic.

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