Serious, long-term health issues improve considerably
(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – In just one generation the number of obese children in the U.S. has more than quadrupled.¹ In the mid 1960’s only 4 percent of children were obese in this country,¹ today that number is closer to one in five.¹ And the number of children who are dangerously overweight is rising, too.
In an effort to stem those numbers and prevent obese children from facing a lifetime of serious diseases, a new study is making a compelling case for offering bariatric surgery sooner in life, rather than later.
“Teenagers with severe obesity, actually suffer from many of the same obesity-related disease, such as high blood pressures, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, previously believed to only affect severely obese adults,” said Marc Michalsky, MD, Surgical Director for Bariatric Surgery at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and author of the study. “Such diseases are considered to be progressive and will get worse over time if nothing is done for these children. It’s a very serious situation.”
To see how bariatric surgery might help, Dr. Michalsky, also with The Ohio State University College of Medicine, followed more than a dozen adolescent patients, charting not only their weight loss after surgery, but things like blood pressure, insulin and cholesterol levels, all of which can be key indicators of their risk of serious and chronic disease.
After two years he saw dramatic changes.
“We found, interestingly, that many of these co-morbid conditions show significant improvement, or resolution even, in some cases,” said Dr. Michalsky, “and in a relatively short amount of time after surgery.”
In fact, in four out of five patients, Dr. Michalsky noted that hypertension was completely cured, pre-diabetic conditions were alleviated in some and the threat of heart disease, kidney, lung and liver problems were dramatically reduced.²
“No question,” said Dr. Michalsky, “surgically-induced weight loss results in significant health improvements for these teenagers.”
Megan Muncy knows that as well as anyone. Megan has struggled her entire life with her weight, which often took a physical and emotional toll. “I had a lot of problems,” said Megan. “I was pre-diabetic, I had trouble breathing and was made fun of constantly in school.”
So, at the age of 14, Megan underwent bariatric surgery. In just over two years, she’s 135 pounds lighter and, for the first time, feels like she belongs. “It’s been amazing,” she said. “Before my surgery I didn’t have very many friends and I really didn’t go anywhere. Now, as my mom would say, I’m a social butterfly!”
But more than giving Megan a better quality of life, this single surgery may have helped her avoid a decades of serious health problems.
“If you’re a teenager and you weigh greater than a hundred pounds over your ideal body weight,” said Dr. Michalsky, “there’s about an 80 percent chance that you’re going to carry that weight into adulthood and even add more weight.”
And with that weight comes a much higher risk for things like heart disease, diabetes and liver problems, which not only prove costly to these patients, but to us all.
Each year direct expenses for treating obese patients tops $147 billion,³ twice the cost just a decade ago.³
Dr. Michalsky insists that surgical intervention in young patients should be a last resort, but when it is appropriate, it can be extremely effective. “If you look at the types of diseases are taking root in these children, and will inevitably get worse over time,” he said, “the argument is quite compelling that we really do need to be doing surgeries this young.”