Is Weight Loss Surgery for Teens?

Is weight loss surgery for teens? This article has information on bypass surgery, laparoscopic gastric banding, and biliopancreatic diversion.  Keep reading to weigh the benefits and risks and the pros and cons of weight loss surgery, or liposuction, for adolescents. 

Teen obesity is becoming a major problem for America's teens, leading to debilitating health problems like diabetes and heart disease. Though weight loss surgery for obese teens has serious potential risks, in some cases it is an option parents may want to talk to their teen's doctor about.

Weight loss surgery is intended to work by reducing the amount of food a person is able to eat or digest. There are three basic types of weight loss surgeries:

  • Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. In this type of surgery a person's stomach is stapled, forming a pouch in their stomach which connects to the small intestine. This limits the amount of food the patient can eat and the amount of food his or her stomach can absorb.
  • Laparoscopic gastric banding. With this surgery, a band is placed around the upper part of the patient's stomach, which limits the amount of food he or she can eat.
  • Biliopancreatic diversion (with duodenal switch) or BPD (BPD/DS). In both of these surgeries a large part of the stomach is removed and the remainder is attached to the small intestine. This surgery restricts the amount that patients can eat and how much food their stomach can absorb. It carries a high risk of malnutrition.

Liposuction, where fat is removed from beneath the skin, is not considered a type of weight loss surgery since it does not necessarily lead to long term weight loss.

All of these weight loss surgeries are major procedures that have a number of risks, including death. Some of the complications of weight loss surgery can include:

  • Infection
  • Leaking at the staple site
  • Food moving too quickly through the digestive system
  • Hernia
  • Blood clots
  • Malnutrition

Though studies are showing that teens can benefit from weight loss surgery, there is not yet a lot of information about side effects of the surgery in teens specifically.

Because of the risks of weight loss surgery, it should only be considered when other measures have been tried, especially a healthy diet and  teen exercise. In some cases parents and doctors may feel the benefits outweigh the risks, especially for teens who are morbidly obese and/or have other serious weight-related health problems. Even with weight loss surgery obese teens will need to make lifestyle changes to be healthy.

Weight loss surgery is usually used for teens who are morbidly obese, or have a body mass index (BMI) of 41 or over. For these teens, successful weight loss surgery has been shown to reduce weight and some of its negative side effects like sleep apnea, asthma, and Type II diabetes. Recent studies suggest that waiting too long for weight loss surgery, such as until the teen is at 200 percent of his or her ideal weight, may leave a teen still morbidly obese, so if the surgery is going to be considered, doctors and parents may want to do so before the teen reaches that weight. Ideally, teens should control weight through other methods well before they reach that level of obesity.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,, "Overweight, Obesity, and Weight Loss" [online]

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, "Behavioral Modification Programs Help Obese Children Manage Their Weight" [online]

Steven Reinberg, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,, "Gastric Bypass Surgery Halts Diabetes in Obese Teens" [online]

Robert Preidt, MedlinePlus, "Delaying Weight-Loss Surgery May Leave Teens at Risk" [online]

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