"The problem with waiting until the child is 18 or 20 is that in those six to eight years of waiting, their diseases could worsen and you could be in a lot worse shape," Schauer said.
U.S. medical centers that perform the procedure say they follow stringent guidelines in selecting the right candidates for the operation. The children who get it are usually extremely obese, with BMIs in the 40s and 50s (obesity is above 25), and face other conditions like diabetes. They also spend many months in a weight control program, trying to shed pounds through diet and exercise.
"If, after a reasonable attempt has been made to lose weight with more conservative strategies and that doesn't work, then the next logical step is surgery," Schauer said.
Children also get a psychological evaluation to determine if they are mature enough to handle the surgery and what it will mean for the rest of their lives.
Dr. Marc Michalsky, surgical director for the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children's Hospital, said although the risks must always be taken into account, the benefits of the surgery for younger teens are pretty compelling.
"If nothing is done with the typical child, they really have a very bleak future to look forward to in terms of the types of cumulative damage that obesity will have on their body. I think is the foundation of why these operations are becoming more popular in the adolescent population," he said.