Obesity Surgery for Weight Loss: A New Teenage Trend?

Bariatric procedures in teens appear to be on the rise. How young is too young?

ByABC News
September 18, 2010, 3:31 PM

Sept. 20, 2010— -- It's an option that may seem extreme for a teenage patient. But ask 15-year-old Kallum Shropshire, who just earlier this year weighed more than 400 pounds, and he will say that obesity surgery was his last resort.

"I've tried dieting and Slim Fast, and other fitness programs too," Shropshire said. "It was just a bunch of work that didn't really pay off."

The LaFayette, Ga., teen said his obesity posed problems beyond the implications for his physical health. Two years ago, he said, his weight interfered with his participation in marching band; eventually, he had to drop out.

"The risk of surgery didn't really matter to me because I really needed something done," he said. "Because I wasn't me, I couldn't really be myself in front of everybody. I just felt like I was an outcast."

For Shropshire, the solution was bariatric surgery in the form of a gastric sleeve operation -- a procedure that removes roughly 85 percent of the stomach. Since his surgery on June 3, Shropshire said he has lost 60 pounds. That was enough weight loss to allow him to complete marching band camp this year. And he hopes that more results are on the way.

"I'd like to lose at least 110 more pounds," he said. "That's my goal is to get down to 250."

Stories like Shropshire's may be becoming increasingly common, a new study released today in the journal Pediatrics suggests. The research, led by Dr. Daniel A. DeUgarte of the UCLA School of Medicine, found that between 2005 and 2007 in California, a total of 590 young patients 13-20 years old underwent a popular type of bariatric surgery known as laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding, or LAGB.

Perhaps more interesting: over the course of the two-year study, rates of the procedure in this age group increased fivefold.

Most of these procedures occurred in patients on the older end of the age spectrum; only 18 percent of the surgeries were performed on children younger than 18. And while the rates of this surgery appear to be on the rise in younger patients, the rates of another, more invasive gastric procedure known as Roux-en-Y gastric bypass decreased in this age group over the course of the study.