Oishei's bariatric surgery program for young people does deep dive into counseling

Aug 24, 2020

Childhood obesity is a national crisis. Being grossly overweight leads to other health issues. A program at Oishei Children's Hospital is addressing the crisis with counseling and bariatric stomach surgery.

Bariatric surgery has been around for adults for decades. It removes much of the stomach or straps off parts of the digestive system for people who can't or won't control their own eating habits.

Oishei's bariatric surgery program for young people requires patients to first agree to six months of work with an array of counselors and helpers and extensive diet before they can be considered for surgery.

This 15-year-old went from a BMI of 60 to 40 one year after surgery.
Credit Oishei Children's Hospital

"Our program is very rigorous on the front end, having the patient followed for at least six months before we offer or consider surgery," said Dr. Carroll Harmon, Oishei's surgeon in chief. "And after surgery, we ask that they continue to come back to our program into adulthood. So even if they go off to college, usually we can catch them at holiday season and sometime during the summer, when they're back."

Harmon said referrals come from doctors or parents.

"Watching their child become not just obese but unhealthy," Harmon said. "Most of the children that we see have complications of the obesity. It's not just the absolute weight. So 70% of our teenagers that we evaluate have obstructive sleep apnea, 60-70% have hypertension, a large percent, 50-60%, have Type 2 diabetes."

In other words, they have the health problems of someone much older with obesity issues. Patients may also just feel bad about themselves because they are far heavier than their classmates.

Harmon said some patients decide against surgery because they are happy with the effect on themselves of that six months of help, which can lead to up to 30% weight loss. Even so, he said perhaps one young person a month has the surgery.

The surgeon expects to follow the progress of the young people for the rest of their lives. He said at five years, results are better for young people than adults.