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Kids under the knife

Today I read that kids recover from obesity surgery better than adults. The study was based on 309 obese patients ages 12 to 18, which makes me wonder, who was the 12-year-old? I think I’d rather have my tonsils removed at that age than part of my stomach. The poor kid must have been really overweight for a doctor to authorize that.

While I support everyone’s right to make their own decisions about their lives, I do find it rather uncomfortable that people that young are having permanent, life-changing surgery. People do a lot of things in their youth they later regret. You can take out the nose ring and the hole will close up. If you save up enough money you can have the tattoo of your ex-boyfriend’s name removed from your ass. You can’t get your stomach back.

But I also understand that being that fat that young has got to be extremely painful and isolating. The fat kids usually don’t get to buy the cute clothes or get the hot dates. I can’t blame morbidly obese teens for wanting to be thinner. A good majority of the population goes through their whole lives wanting to be thinner. But I’ve always seen weight-loss surgery as the absolute last resort, the thing you do when everything else fails. Can you really have tried everything by age 18? I wasn’t ready to lose weight until my mid-twenties. Sometimes it takes time for you to grow into yourself and learn what it takes to lose weight healthily. But then again, if you do end up getting the surgery, it seems better to do it while you’re younger and you have better chances of survival. But how do you know that’s what you’ll have to do until you’ve exhausted all your resources?

I don’t know. Personally I suspect that in another hundred years obesity will be treated with pills. You’ll be able to take medication that speeds up your metabolism or that prevents your body from absorbing certain nutrients. Weight-loss surgery is probably only a blip, like 8-track players, but it’s the only thing we’ve got right now for people who aren’t successful dieting and exercising.

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26 Comments

Christy • June 15, 2007 at 12:36 pm

I agree it seems a little too drastic for me to have that sort of a surgery before you turn 18.

Before you can drive your parents really are the only ones who give you access to food (driving to the grocery store, purchasing good foods vs. bad foods, stopping at a fast food restraunt, giving you an allowance to purchase food) so if these kids are candidates for surgery at 12, 13, 14… maybe they should start with the parents rather than hacking into the kids.

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PastaQueen • June 15, 2007 at 12:46 pm

Christy – I agree that the parents share some responsibility, but obesity is seen as such a negative trait in society that I don’t believe many parents would purposely cause their kids to be fat. I think a lot of those habits are born out of ignorance or the parents own inability to adopt healthy habits. Which then gets passed onto the kids in an endless cycle. It’s a complex problem. Where’s an “easy” button when you need one?

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Mary • June 15, 2007 at 1:35 pm

My feeling is that a lot of people choose weight loss surgery INSTEAD of trying to diet and exercise. I believe there are a lot of people who do think it’s an “easy” button.

I’ve been obese all my life and was shocked when my niece asked me if I’d ever considered weight loss surgery. I was shocked because where I’m plenty overweight, I’ve never felt that I had exhausted all my options or done everything I could do to lose weight.

In my mind there is a HUGE difference between choosing to change how you eat and fit exercise into your life and permanently altering your body in such a way that can’t be reversed. I personally hope I don’t get to that point, but I applaud those who have chosen it and are happy with the results.

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wendy • June 15, 2007 at 1:43 pm

I totally agree – I wrote a post about a recent episode of Big Medicine that profiled an early twenty-something girl that had the surgery and then additional plastic surgery and she is now a size zero. I can’t imagine she had exhausted all possible weight loss techniques prior to the surgery.

Also, the article talks about recovery, but there aren’t very many studies on the long term effects of rearranging internal organs. Other than statistics on regaining weight there probably isn’t even enough data to draw significant conclusions.

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BrightAngel • June 15, 2007 at 1:52 pm

Almost 15 years ago, weighing 271 (height 5’0″).

I had lost 100 lbs 3 separate times and gained it back each time, been on every possible diet, belonged to OA for 5 years, spent over 20 years in therapy, and gone through a hospital outpatient eating disorders program. Finally I had a gastric bypass. It was painful & financially difficult, but I still feel it was worth it. That first year I dropped to 160 lbs, and for the next few years maintained in the 160s. However, my body began again to tolerate sugar and my stomach stretched, and again I had to begun dieting to keep the pounds down.

Almost 3 years ago, at 190 lbs (Still with an 80 lb net loss), I began my current food plan, where I use the software program Diet Power, and log in every bite of my food. During that time the first 16 months I lost another 80 lbs, down to 110 lbs and I have been maintaining that loss for the past 17 months. Tomorrow it will be 1000 consecutive days of logging all my food into DietPower.

My point is, while Gastric Bypass surgery is a great help for morbid obesity, and will cause an immediate drastic weight loss, the surgery does not change the fact that one has to diet and exercise to continue to lose to one’s ideal goal weight or to maintain a weight loss.

If I ate everything I wanted to eat that I Could eat, I would be 271 again very, very soon…and I could still go above that weight…even after past Gastric Bypass Surgery.

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Kery • June 15, 2007 at 2:25 pm

Tough one. In the article, the writer mentions kids “who have exhausted other treatment options”, but I don’t know what is included in that concept. Can one really exhaust all options before the age of 16-18? Did these options include the wrong variety of dieting, rather than healthy foods, reduced portions and exercise? (Which IS part of the WLS once it’s been performed, so…)

Maybe they recover better, but, uh, yes… It must be really hard on the mind, knowing at such a young age that you’ve been through something so invasive and will never get that part of your body back…

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PastaQueen • June 15, 2007 at 2:27 pm

BrightAngel – If the surgery had been available and affordable to your 18-year-old self, do you think you would have pursued it? I’ve heard many WLS patients say the surgery is more like a tool than a “cure.” Do you think the years of going up and down were good or bad for you? Both?

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GroovyBabe • June 15, 2007 at 2:31 pm

I have thought about WLS for myself as I try and try and try to lose and it doesn’t work. But I’ve decided I still cannot go through with it yet. I have given myself one more year to get myself under control and if I am still the same weight in a year then I’ll go on the waiting list. Its a really big decision. I can’t imagine who would take such a decision lightly. As it happens my diet is going really well at the moment so hopefully I wont need to resort to it.

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Janice Bridge • June 15, 2007 at 2:52 pm

Two years ago this summer, a friend of mine opted for gastric bypass surgery. Her decision, plus a number of other life influences, lead me to a decision to try a VLCD – a medically monitored fast with supplements. I have the advantage of having one of the best clinics of its type (http://www.keepitoff.com/) in my town.

My friend’s surgery was successful and today, 20 months following her surgery, she has achieved a healthy balanced body and is maintaining her weight loss.

My husband and I each lost more than 100 pounds on the fast – in less than 9 months – and are ‘keeping it off’ through careful eating and exercise. Our daughter (who is one month younger than Pasta Queen) has lost 121 pounds on the fast (from 298 pounds to 177) in nine months.

My friend’s surgery cost just under $30,000 – paid by her insurance company. My weight loss cost just over $3,000 – paid by me. We currently eat much the same foods – I because I know I must limit carbs and fats or I will regain the weight – she because if she eats too many carbs or too concentrated fats, she has significant negative side effects (trust me, you would NOT want them.)

The contrasts are dramatic. I believe the medical community is encouraging by pass surgery not only because they see it as a ‘quick fix’ but also because it is financially lucrative for the hospitals.

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JEM • June 15, 2007 at 3:06 pm

I personally feel that unless there life is in immediate jeopardy people under 18 should not have the surgery. This is a decision that will alter your life forever. To have part of your body voluntarily removed is a big deal. I have some friends that ended up having the surgery and some have had some serious complications and all have had nutrient deficiencies. Yes, they are thinner, yes they look great, but some of them don’t feel so hot. My one friend worries about having a baby now because her own body is not getting the nutrients it needs so what will happen if she gets pregnant.

I have thought about this surgery for myself but I can not go through with it even with all the failed attempts to loss weight. If I am still struggling in a few years then I might reconsider. But if I was a teenager I would probably have jumped on the chance to do it because nothing was more important to me than fitting in and being cute. I thought high school would shape my whole life. Little did I know it was not important in the least. Those people and situations are long gone. Health was not important to me at that time it was looks and popularity. I can’t imagine most teens are mature enough to make this decision.

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Chris H • June 15, 2007 at 3:38 pm

I think “each to his own”… we can get too judgemental on this one…. everyone has the right to do what works for them. But I do wonder if a 12 year old is mature enough to have made that decision on his/her own? It is a huge operation, life changing with side effects for the rest of your life… and 12 years old or even 18…. do they really understand the repercusions??

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Rachel • June 15, 2007 at 4:21 pm

We all have different paths to chose in life and I’m quite sure all come from different backgrounds. I’ve lost 70 lbs on WW and work hard to keep it off! My mom who has battled weight issues all her life and has tried every diet out there had Gastric Bypass surgery in January of this year. Fortunately she had a wonderful doctor, hospital and daughter (that would be me!) to take care of her. So far she has lost 63 lbs and is looking amazing. ZERO complications, she works out, eats great and has a better frame of mind and MUCH more self confidence.

My mom survived terrible abuse as a child and food was always her comfort. Unfortunatley that carried over into adulthood, and we all know what life can do to us.

It wasn’t a lightly made decision, but for her it was the best decision.

All hail the Queen!

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Marla • June 15, 2007 at 4:38 pm

It IS a tough one. I have mixed feelings about WLS – some aspects of it seem crazy to me, yet there are obviously people who were helped by it when other methods failed. I would never want to remove that choice – it’s not up to ME to decide for other people. But I do have qualms about minor children having WLS, both regarding their ability to understand and consent, and regarding the long-term consequences of that surgery at an early age. On the other hand (I have many hands) I feel that the greatest tragedy (regret? detriment?) in my life was growing up fat. It shadowed every decision, every action, everything about the way I lived my life. I wish very much it could have been otherwise – so would my life have been better or taken a different course if I’d had WLS? On my fourth or fifth hand, I wonder how much fatness would have mattered if I had familial support and closeness… it just goes around and around!

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virg • June 15, 2007 at 5:14 pm

I often wonder if thyroid function is evaluated before a patient undergoes gastric bypass. When people write about not being able to lose weight on strict diets or having to stay on very low calorie diets to maintain a healthy weight, I wonder if thyroid conditions or other metabolic disorders are the cause. There’s something that can really affect your ability to maintain a “normal” weight, and a lot of doctors don’t even consider it unless you have a goiter.

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starbird • June 15, 2007 at 6:19 pm

virg: I totally agree with you. Everyone should have thyroid function evaluated before taking any medical steps relating to weight, energy, mood…

For me, taking kelp tablets helps my energy and mood and I notice within three days if I forget to get my daily dose, which I figured out without medical supervision.

On WLS, I read an article recently that mentioned a problem I haven’t seen addressed any where else and I hope Rachel, the wonderful daughter, and her mother check this out: it seems that many people who have gastric by-pass surgery because they can’t bring their compulsive eating to heel, become addicted to other substances, primarily alcohol and drugs. Just something to be aware of.

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Narelle • June 15, 2007 at 6:35 pm

These days there is not only one type of weight loss surgery. While it seems the most popular type in the US is gastric bypass surgery there is also gastric banding. This surgery is very non evasive, completely reversible and you are up and back at school/work in a week. While I am not sure what type of surgery was recommended for the teens in that particular article, a lot of teens here in Australia are getting the banding done for the reasons stated above.

Gastric banding seems to be a safer, less drastic way of going about weight loss surgery. With close monitoring by a doctor you can lose a heap of weight slowly and safely without missing out on anything your body needs. How would I know this? I have a gastric band and have lost nearly 200 pounds through it.

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Sara • June 15, 2007 at 7:43 pm

I don’t feel one way or the other very strongly… but I do know that it would have been very hard for me to lose weight before I turned 18 and left for college, just because of the constant food distractions in my house. At age 19-20 I went from 260lbs to 180lbs through diet and excercise. The food part only really worked well for me because I didn’t keep crap around my apartment. Even now, I struggle with control when my boyfriend inadvertently buys something I could easily binge on.

I wonder if “exhausting all your resources” includes a full family lifestyle overhaul.

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Patricia • June 15, 2007 at 11:19 pm

I think that for some people the WLS is a good starting point for the weight loss bc they really have no other choice but to change their eating habits afterwards or suffer the consequences. If they eat too much prior to surgery they don’t have the negative side effects. (except gaining more weight)

I also disagree that teens, 12-18, can have exhausted all other options. It is just too young and they are just not ready to undergo such a life changing surgery.

My mother would like to have WLS and I have never seen her try to eat healthy. She says, I have tried everything, I eat healthy now, and in the next breath gets chili cheese fries and a bowl of ice cream! I’m sure there are people out there who really have tried everything but I think the doctors have to be careful, because I’ve seen my mother and others who claim to have tried everything and just are not being honest with themselves.

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Patricia • June 15, 2007 at 11:50 pm

Oh, oh, oh!!! I meant to ask you a question, but I forgot in my previous comment! Loose skin? Do you have any issues with loose skin? I’ve gone from 175 to 154 in 6-7 mths and I have loose skin! It seems incredibly unfair that I wasn’t morbidly obese, just overweight, I lost 21 lbs slowly by eating right and exercising and I still have loose skin! So, you lost a helluva lot of weight at a healthy rate over time, do you have loose skin too? If you do, what do you plan on doing about it? Plastic surgery, or just deal with it?

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Emily • June 16, 2007 at 12:16 am

I can’t rationalize WLS to kids. I’ve sat here thinking about it, and nope – can’t do it. There has to be a better way. I don’t buy that all other options have been exhausted.

We like the fix the symptoms of the problem, and not the actual problem.

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PastaQueen • June 16, 2007 at 8:21 am

Patricia – I wrote about loose skin here.

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BrightAngel • June 16, 2007 at 11:58 am

Pasta Queen,

Regarding my 18 year old self.

I wasn’t morbidly obese at age 18. My weight problem began at puberty (age 9), and pre-high school I went up to 150 lbs. At age 13 the doctor gave me thyroid pills & diet pills(1957) which brought my weight down to 113 at the start of my Freshman year in High school. I was able to keep my weight between 125 & 135 during those years…with a GREAT deal of EFFORT.

My first time over 200 lbs was after the birth of my first child (1965). When she was 6 months old I was age 20 and about 235 lbs. With what I knew about my dieting and genetic history AT THAT TIME, would I have chosen gastric bypass surgery if it had been available to me? Yes. In retrospect do I think it would have been the right decision? Yes.

I think the maturity of 18 year olds vary.

I married two weeks after I turned 18, (1963) and at that time I already had a lot of wisdom about my food/dieting/fat problem.

Of course, in reality, the surgery didn’t exist at that time, and even (at age 47) when I had it 15 years ago, it was still considered experimental..(laser surgery didn’t exist yet).., and I had to travel to a large city 400 miles away and and stay there for a month in order for a California surgeon to do it.

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melsky • June 16, 2007 at 1:46 pm

I would be worried that there would be complications much later as the body continued growing.

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d • June 16, 2007 at 11:33 pm

Could you have gotten … TALLER after losing all that weight? Is it possible your skeleton is less compressed? Cause you appear longer in the last photo than the first — try to line them up! AND you’re barefoot in last and sneakerclad in your earliest.

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Lose Weight With Me • June 18, 2007 at 8:12 am

My concern about someone so young having th surgery is that the root behaviors that need to change may not get addressed. It does no good to have portions of our stomach removed if we don’t know how to eat right and exercise.

Brian

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Kimberly • June 19, 2007 at 12:48 am

I went to a seminar back in September for my weight loss surgeon and there was a couple that was there for themselves and asked about surgery for one of their children that was under the age of 18. My surgeon won’t do surgery on anyone under 18 unless there are extenuating(sp?) health concerns to do it.

I, myself, finally opted for WLS after years of trying to lose weight the conventional way. I also have thyroid disease and have for the last 11-12 years, so this was the tool that I needed to get the ball rolling.

Also, gastric bypass is not the only type of WLS out there nowadays. I opted for the Lap-Band. My physiology has not changed and the procedure can be reversed if it needs to be down the line. Granted I am not losing weight like someone that has had GBP, but then again, I didn’t want to lose weight that rapidly and eventually, I will catch up to the rapidity, is that a word, that GBP patients have shown in their loss. I hope that makes sense. :)

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