Better Life and Health for Teens After Bariatric Surgery

New data this week adds to our view of life and health for teens after bariatric surgery. Both are better for most of them after bariatric surgery. This week’s data deals with quality of life, pain, physical function, and kidney function. Two new studies document important benefits from the surgery. One other study offers an important caution.

Quality of Life and Physical Function

First off in Pediatrics, the TEEN-LABS Consortium published an analysis of pain and physical function for three years after bariatric surgery. Sharon Bout-Tabaku saw a 40 percent reduction of muscle, bone, and joint pain. This improvement came in the first 12 months after surgery. What’s more, it persisted through the study. Within six months of surgery, the number of youth with poor physical function was cut by more than half.

But perhaps the most compelling benefit comes in the quality of life for these teens. Living with obesity as a teenager is challenging. Even with supportive family and friends, you’re living in a hostile culture. And unfortunately, family and friends are not always supportive. Quality of life improved greatly for most of these youth. They could function better. They enjoyed better comfort. And these improvements were lasting.

Kidney Function

Yet another study, in Diabetes Care, offers a compelling picture of the impact on diabetic kidney disease. Researchers compared the progression of this disease in youth with obesity who received medical care to those who received surgery.

The difference was stark.

Hyperfiltration – a sign of kidney damage – was 16 times more likely for the youth who did not have surgery. The odds of another signal – albumin in the urine – was 27 times more likely. Needless to say, kidney disease is not something anyone would wish upon a young person. Not for a moment.

Caution About Nutrition Deficiencies

A third study reminds us that bariatric surgery has its risks. And a critically important risk is all about nutrition. Close to 60 percent of teen bypass patients and 27 percent of sleeve patients had at least two nutritional deficiencies five years after surgery. Clearly, careful monitoring and supplements are essential. And even then, a young person who has this surgery will have some problems along the way.

Without a doubt, bariatric surgery can be immensely beneficial to young people who need it. But it’s a decision that kids and families must make carefully. It has lifelong implications, mostly for a better life and health for teens. But it comes with some risks.

Click here for the study of physical function and pain, here for the study of kidney function, and here for the study of nutritional problems. For more on the recent, favorable view of bariatric surgery from the American Academy of Pediatrics, click here.

Windows, photograph © Victor / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


November 22, 2019