Adolescents Undergoing Bariatric Surgery Are Severely Ill

sharma-obesity-bariatric-surgery21The recently released Canadian Practice Guidelines on the prevention and management of overweight and obesity in children and youth released by the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care (CMAJ 2015), rightly recommended that surgery not be routinely offered to children or youth who are overweight or obese.

Nevertheless, there is increasing evidence that some of these kids, especially those with severe obesity, may well require rather drastic treatments that go well beyond the current clinical practice of doing almost nothing.

Just how ill kids can be before they are generally considered potential candidates for bariatric surgery is evident from a study by  Marc Michalsky and colleagues, who just published the baseline characteristics of participants in the Teen Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery (Teen-LABS) Study, a prospective cohort study following patients undergoing bariatric surgery at five adolescent weight-loss surgery centers in the United States (JAMA Pediatrics).

While the mean age of participants was 17 with a median body mass index of 50, the prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors was remarkable: fasting hyperinsulinemia (74%), elevated hsCRP (75%), dyslipidemia (50%), elevated blood pressure (49%), impaired fasting glucose levels (26%), and diabetes mellitus (14%).

Not reported in this paper are the many non-cardiovascular problems raging from psychiatric issues to sleep apnea and muskuloskeletal problems, that often dramatically affect the life of these kids.

While surgery certainly appears rather drastic, the fact that these kids are undergoing surgery is merely an indicator of the fact that we don’t have effective medical treatments for this patient population, which would likely require a combination of behavioural interventions and polypharmacy to achieve anything close to the current weight-loss success of bariatric surgery.

That this cannot be the ultimate answer to obesity management (whether for kids or adults), is evident from the rising number of kids and adults presenting with ever-higher BMI’s and related comorbidity – not all of these can or will want surgery.

Thus, while current anti-obesity medications cannot compete with the magnitude of weight-loss generally seen with surgery, medications together with behavioural interventions may well play a role in helping prevent progressive weight gain in earlier stages of the disease.

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any studies that have explored the use of medications in kids to stabilize weight in order to avoid surgery. This would, in my opinion, be a very worthwhile use of such medications.

Edmonton, AB