The number of U.S. children having obesity surgery has tripled, rising at a pace that could mean more than 1,000 such operations this year, new research suggests. While the procedure is still far more common in adults, it appears to be slightly less risky in teens, according to an analysis of data on 12- to 19-year-olds who had obesity surgery from 1996 through 2003.
During that time, an estimated 2,744 obese youths nationwide had the operations. The pace tripled between 2000 and 2003, reaching 771 surgeries that year, according to the study.
Young patients had slightly shorter hospital stays, an average of 3.2 days, than adults, who averaged 2.5 days according to researchers. The study found that there were 212 in-hospital deaths out of an estimated 104,702 adults who underwent obesity surgery in 2003, or a rate of 0.2 percent. Total hospital charges were also lower for pediatric patients, $30,804 per patient versus $36,056 for adults.
Researchers at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J., and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center analyzed a database of U.S. hospital patients. Obesity surgeries in children during the eight-year period and adults in 2003 were included in the analysis.
Dr. Randall Burd of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School said the numbers of youngsters undergoing obesity surgery likely has continued to rise along with adults having the surgery.
The American Society for Bariatric Surgery estimates that last year, there were 177,600 obesity surgeries, up from 20,500 a decade ago and 103,200 in 2003. If it kept pace with adults, the number of obesity surgeries in teens likely would climb well past 1,000 this year.
Inge, of Cincinnati Children's, said the new study suggests the benefits outweigh the risks for most patients. But it also left many unanswered questions, including how teens fared after leaving the hospital.
Obesity surgery during the teen years poses different psychological risks than for adults, Inge said. Many teens are already struggling with identity issues, and rapid weight loss after surgery can catapult them, "into situations that they didn't really imagine before," he said.
His center is taking part in a five-year study to examine the medical and psychological results of obesity surgery among teens.
"It's critically important that the short-term and long-term outcome of these kids is studied" because of the potential health implications, Burd said.