Should a young adult undergo weight loss surgery or should he or she keep working at diet and exercise to lose the weight naturally?
Philip Barnett, 26, had weight loss surgery. “I knew how to eat nutritiously and to be healthy; my portions were just too large,” Barnett is quoted as saying in a ScienceDaily.com report.
At 5-8, he weighed 295 at his heaviest. Barnett’s weight loss surgery was a success and at the time of the 2016 report, he was a 196-pound avid runner.
The report says nothing about previous weight loss attempts, only that he was motivated to have the surgery after getting married.
These days, the so-called weight loss surgery is becoming more and more common — and patients are getting younger.
This has many people who swear by diet and exercise wondering if it’s a smart idea for young adults, who have plenty of time to try natural weight loss methods, to have bariatric surgery.
“That is a question that shouldn’t be generalized because it’s different for each individual,” says Susan L. Besser, MD, with Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore; Diplomate, American Board of Obesity Medicine and board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine.
“That said, yes, under the correct circumstances, bariatric surgery for young adults is an acceptable treatment.”
There are numerous young adults weighing in the 400s who’ve lost enough weight via diet and exercise to be in a medically acceptable range of weight.
Some have kept it off and show no signs of returning to their previous state.
Teens and Weight Loss Surgery
When Shani Gofman was 17 (5-1 and 250 pounds), her doctor said, “You’re not going to be able to do it,” when the girl said she’d diet to lose weight.
This kind of pronouncement by a doctor can put the idea of failure inside the young patient’s head and de-motivate them to naturally lose weight.
According to a New York Times article, 1 to 2 percent of weight loss surgeries are on patients under age 21. Gofman had a lap band procedure at age 19 and 271 pounds.
The NYT article notes that the long-term effects of weight loss surgery are still not defined clearly.
Death Risks and Complications of Weight Loss Surgery
One in 900 gastric bypass patients, and one in 2,000 gastric band patients, die during or right after surgery, says William Encinosa. He is a senior economist for the Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
He adds that 3 percent of bypass patients and 1 percent of lap band patients suffer major complications like blood clots.
Those percentages may seem small, but they’re huge to the patients and their families.
A study in the Journal of Obesity notes that 30 percent of lap band patients needed new surgeries within 14 years. One of the reasons was band slippage.
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association says that in teens who had weight loss surgery, 30 percent required follow-up operations within two years.
And then there are the lifestyle issues. The NYT article quotes Gofman about six months post-surgery: “I couldn’t even have a single little sandwich without embarrassing myself and going to the bathroom.”
She had dropped about 40 pounds but eventually gained about half back. She had quit her gym membership because it was too expensive.
She had another surgery to tighten the band at age 20. Gofman said she constantly fights hunger.
For some young adults and even teens, weight loss surgery can be a lifesaver. For others, it doesn’t quite work. Each case should be considered on an individual basis.
There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to “Should young people undergo weight loss surgery?”
Losing Weight Naturally: What’s NOT Required
- Hiring a personal trainer
- Paying expensive health club dues (some chains are pretty cheap).
- Fad diets, constant hunger
For young adults, the formula for safe, permanent weight loss without surgery is:
- Practice portion control.
- Allow yourself one treat a day with controlled portions to avoid feeling deprived.
- Diet is mostly but not exclusively unprocessed foods.
- Strength training and aerobic training that include segments of high intensity.
Dr. Besser provides comprehensive family care, treating common and acute primary conditions like diabetes and hypertension. Her ongoing approach allows her the opportunity to provide accurate and critical diagnoses of more complex conditions and disorders.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.