Most teens who undergo obesity surgery become obese again after three years

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According to a new study, only a quarter of obese teens who undergo gastric bypass surgery or the less-invasive sleeve gastrectomy manage to keep weight off up to three years after the operations.


The research, which was presented at the Obesity Society's annual meeting and is published in a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, is described by the AP as the "largest, longest study of teen obesity surgery" ever.

The study looked at the overall weight loss of more than 200 teens who had undergone surgery across five clinics between the ages of 13 and 19. Most of the teens weighed about 330 pounds before the procedure and lost about 90 pounds, initially.

Researcher Dr. Thomas Inge, surgical director of the Cincinnati's Children Hospital Surgical Weight Loss Program for Teens, and his co-authors wrote that nearly three-quarters of the survey participants put weight back on in the first three years after surgery:

At baseline, all the participants were obese (BMI >30) whereas at 3 years, 26% of the participants were no longer obese… at 3 years, 2% of the participants who underwent gastric bypass and 4% of those who underwent sleeve gastronomy exceeded their baseline weight:

After that, the Associated Press reports that "most remained obese — just 5 percent achieved a normal weight."

Texas Children's Hospital, one of the five clinics that is a part of the National Institutes of Health-funded Teen-Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery (Teen-LABS) program, suggested that a ten-year study could be more beneficial:

While participants were followed for three years post-surgery, it is possible some of the health improvements seen may diminish and other health risks could emerge later. Thus, the longer follow-up of adolescents who have bariatric surgery through at least 10 years is critical.


Some of the teens who underwent the surgery also suffered complications, the AP reports, like a decrease in iron levels. About 13% needed additional operations.

Though a 5% long-term success rate seems low, some experts say that weight loss is not always the most important part of surgery. The AP lays out some encouraging results from the study:

—75 percent had unhealthy blood fat levels including high triglycerides and too little good cholesterol: in two-thirds of them it vanished.

—40 percent had elevated blood pressure; it returned to normal in three-quarters.

—Almost 20 percent had abnormal kidney function; it disappeared in more than 80 percent.

—13 percent had Type 2 diabetes; it disappeared in more than 90 percent.

And the researchers write that their findings demonstrate the short-term success of weight-loss surgeries for teens.

A majority of participants in our study had marked improvements with respect to weight, obesity-related coexisting conditions, and quality of life… we found remission of diabetes in 95% of participants who had type 2 diabetes at baseline in our study… this result, coupled with the findings of normalization of elevated blood pressure in nearly 80% of our participants, leads us to hypothesize that adolescents may have a greater potential than adults for reversal of the cardiometabolic consequences of obesity.


Guess we'll have to wait and see.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.