The only thing better than turning your life around with a gastric sleeve when you’re an adult? Doing it when you’re younger.
Elective surgery during the teen or young adult years isn’t often considered a good thing. We’re taught that surgery should always be a last resort, that the risks are too great, and that teenagers shouldn’t make life-altering decisions about their bodies until they’re older. And that’s true for most things. But let’s look at whether those things true for gastric sleeve.
#1: Surgery should always be a last resort. Well, it certainly shouldn’t be your first choice! But like people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond, most teens and young adults have tried diet and exercise for years in order to shed pounds. I would never advocate gastric sleeve for anyone who hasn’t tried other avenues to weight loss.
#2: The risks are too great. The truth is that the risks are no greater for young people than for older adults. Research has shown that teens have similar rates of complications (which are low for gastric sleeve) and actually experienced shorter hospital stays than older patients.
#3: Young people shouldn’t make life-altering decisions about their bodies. Maybe wait on that “I love mom” tattoo. But the vast majority of people who’ve had gastric sleeve wish they’d done it sooner. Imagine the benefits for teenagers who’ve been bullied for their weight. In fact, multiple studies have shown that bariatric procedures not only deliver incredible physical benefits for young people, but amazing mental benefits as well.
Childhood obesity is typically a life sentence. It’s fairly common for teens to have the same life-threatening diseases that we hear about in adults: diabetes, fatty liver disease, high blood pressure, etc. And without intervention, the vast majority of overweight teens will become overweight adults. But gastric sleeve in teens and young adults improves or eliminates these risks now and in the future. Basically: their health becomes like that of someone who’s never been overweight.
Mentally, the advantages are significant, too. Being overweight can trigger depression and anxiety—both of which can lead to risky behaviors like early sexual activity or drug/alcohol use. We hear horror stories about the bullying that goes on today, and anyone who was an overweight teen knows that it’s not a new phenomenon. My wonderful staffer, Brandi, who’s had gastric, still vividly remembers her peers’ cruelty and wishes it had been an option for her back then. Seeing our younger patients transform their lives is especially thrilling for her, as it is for me.
Gastric sleeve isn’t for every teen, of course, just like it’s not for every adult. No matter your age, good candidates must be able to stick to good habits—like getting enough protein and making healthy food and exercised choices. Teens also need:
- Parental consent, along with a support system to help before and after surgery
- A BMI of 35
- An evaluation to determine that his/her bones are done growing
Just a note for female patients: It’s perfectly safe to carry a baby after having gastric sleeve. Though adolescent patients aren’t typically thinking about pregnancy, undergoing gastric sleeve may actually help them become pregnant if and when they decide to start a family.
The first step in this process is talking—talking with your teenager (or your parents, if you’re the teen) and then talking to us. The benefits of having gastric sleeve at a younger age are extensive, both health-wise and emotionally. But there’s only one way to discover whether it’s right for you. We hope to speak with you soon.