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New Bariatric Program Helps Curb Adolescent Obesity

The rate of obesity among teens has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Today, 18 percent are obese, which increases their risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and dying young. Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University Physicians have partnered with St. Louis Children’s Hospital to open the first bariatric surgery program in the St. Louis area for obese adolescents.

“Obese adolescents face a lifetime of long-term health problems related to their weight,” says Washington University bariatric surgeon Esteban Varela, MD, who directs the program. “Bariatric surgery increasingly has become a viable treatment option for extremely obese teens who can’t lose weight by other methods.”

Adolescents ages 14-19 may be eligible for weight-loss surgery if they are extremely obese with a body mass index above 40. Teens who opt to have the procedure must have been unable to lose weight after participation in the Head to Toe weight management program at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. They must also be evaluated by Varela and the adolescent bariatric surgery team, along with pediatric experts at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, including a pediatric endocrinologist and registered dietitian.

Barnes-Jewish Hospital is designated as a Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence by the American Society of Bariatric Surgery.

Varela and the bariatric surgery team offer three types of minimally invasive weight-loss surgeries: laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding, laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy and laparoscopic gastric bypass. Most patients can return to school or work after two weeks of recovery.

Varela’s previous research has shown that bariatric surgery is as safe in adolescents as in adults and that adolescents have fewer complications.

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