The Teenage Brain

Does a Gastric Sleeve Affect Teen Brain Function?

At ObesityWeek, the Obesity Journal Symposium is always a good bet and yesterday was no exception. Among five excellent papers, one was especially intriguing – a study of how a gastric sleeve affects teen brain function. It was a small, but careful study with tantalizing results. Alaina Pearce and colleagues studied 36 patients in one active and two matched control groups.

Their research documented improvements in executive function and reward-related function in the teens who received a gastric sleeve operation compared to the two control groups who did not.

Brain Function and Obesity

Brain function plays an important role in obesity – both its development and its treatment. Parts of the brain that serve to regulate energy balance don’t function as well in some ways for people with obesity. And after successful bariatric surgery, some of those functions may improve in adults.

But a teenage brain is different. It’s still developing, particularly in its capacity for robust executive function. In case you hadn’t noticed, sometimes teenagers make some dumb decisions. That’s what executive brain function is all about.

So understanding how a gastric sleeve operation might affect the function of these developing brains is especially important.

The Role of Bariatric Surgery for Teens

For some adolescents with severe obesity, bariatric surgery clearly has an important role to play. Severe obesity in teens carries a risk for bad outcomes linked to certain deficits in brain function – especially  decision-making. So if surgery leads to improvements in brain function for these teens, it has the potential to change important life outcomes.

These are just pilot data. The numbers are small. Patients were not randomized. Such a study as this is triply hard. Randomization to surgery is hard. Studying youth is hard. And of course, studying brain function is hard.

But those challenges represent an opportunity to answer some important questions. And young people with severe obesity deserve good answers to help them make the most of their lives.

Click here for the study, here for more on the teenage brain, and here for more on the effects of bariatric surgery on brain function.

The Teenage Brain, photograph © Pabak Sarkar / flickr

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November 1, 2017

4 Responses to “Does a Gastric Sleeve Affect Teen Brain Function?”

  1. November 01, 2017 at 7:09 am, Allen Browne said:


    Good job. Very tantalizing information – especially if other effective methods to weight loss such as pharmacotherapy, device therapy and combination therapy have similar benefits. The kids need help and we are getting closer.



    • November 01, 2017 at 9:40 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Allen, and thanks for helping me wrap my brain around this.

  2. November 02, 2017 at 8:58 am, John DiTraglia said:

    Were they really randomized to surgery? Opting for surgery has myriad operational confounding.

    • November 02, 2017 at 9:39 am, Ted said:

      No. They were not randomized, as the post says above.