A growing number of obese teens are undergoing an extreme operation to manage their ballooning waistlines.
Bariatric surgery, which involves altering a patient’s stomach size or their small intestine, is on the rise among adolescents, doctors say.
And thanks to a new study proclaiming the operations safe for children as young as 10 years old, the weight loss surgeries will soon become the go-to for a generation in crisis, says Dr. Ragui Sadek, director of Bariatric Surgery at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.
Youth obesity is resulting in “hypertension and diabetes in kids ages 12, 13 and 14,” Sadek says. “We have never seen this before as physicians, which raises the concern that there’s a serious problem.”
To Sadek, bariatric surgery is misunderstood by many, and he challenges the notion that it’s an “extreme” measure. “[It’s] an approved, scientifically researched answer for some patients,” he says.
Still, there are plenty of risks associated with the major operation, from temporary excessive bleeding to longer term issues including bowel obstruction and hernias, according to the Mayo Clinic.
And young people who underwent the surgery tell The Post it’s not just an easy way out of obesity.
Jewel Francis-Aburime was 18 when she went under the knife, getting a sleeve gastrectomy that helped her drop from 400 to around 150 pounds. But that’s when the real work began.
“People think … you don’t have to bother with diet and exercise,” she tells The Post. “[But] I was dieting and exercising like everyone else [after surgery].”
The 6-foot-tall 20-year-old from Bowie, Maryland, says now, “I genuinely can still eat the same amount of food, I just need to eat in smaller portions.”
Michaela Suffy, 24, says she yo-yo dieted for years — losing some weight then quickly gaining it back — before she got a sleeve gastrectomy at age 19. She went from 260 pounds before surgery down to her current weight of 150.
“It is a lifestyle change,” she tells The Post. “You have to maintain it forever. The weight can creep back.”
That’s an issue an increasingly younger population may be grappling with.
The American Academy of Pediatrics analyzed 3,705 bariatric surgery patients aged 10 to 19, finding that just 1 percent had a re-operation and only 3.5 percent had to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of operation. And, for the month following surgery, no deaths occurred, according to the findings presented this week at the AAP 2019 National Conference & Exhibition.
Before being approved or recommended for bariatric surgery by your insurance company, there are usually several benchmarks to meet: The patient must have a body mass index of 40 to 50; an X-ray to determine bone maturity; and ongoing trips to the nutritionist.
They’re also required to have an extensive psychological evaluation. But some patients say there’s no preparing for some of the emotional hurdles.
“The hardest thing for me mentally … was just recognizing my new self,” says Suffy, who says she’d look in the mirror and think, “Who is this?”
Francis-Aburime echoed this feeling. In spite of her success, she says one “really big struggle” post-op is the potential for excess skin. “Especially in the age of Instagram,” she says, she laments that people don’t talk more openly about this issue to prepare them for the possibility — and how to deal with it. For her, that means starting a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for surgery to remove skin, since insurance won’t cover cosmetic procedures.
“Your standard of what you want for yourself will keep raising,” she says. “But when you’re at 400 pounds you think, ‘I don’t care if I have loose skin, it’s still going to be better than now.’ “