Severely obese teenagers who have weight loss surgery halve their risk of premature heart disease and stroke within a year, a new study found.
A third of all American children are overweight or obese, putting them in danger of developing life-threatening conditions, including heart disease, which is the number one killer of adults in the US.
But researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical Center found that bariatric surgery would cut that risk in half for teenagers.
The study comes just a week after Harvard scientists urged that more children should be getting weight loss surgery as it is the single most effective way to treat obesity, signaling that doctors may be taking a new tactic against obesity.
Weight loss surgery can lower heart disease risks from eight to four percent for the one in three American teenagers who are obese, new research has revealed
Being overweight or obese puts people of all ages more at risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Having a high body mass index increases blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure and risk of developing Type 2 diabetes – all risk factors for heart disease.
Heart disease is the single most common cause of death before 65 and accounts for one in every four deaths in the US.
Meanwhile childhood obesity continues to become more common in the US, where one in three children between five 19 are medically obese or overweight.
Early in life, these children are already facing daunting risks of developing heart disease in adulthood, and widespread public health campaigns have done little to stop the obesity epidemic.
The new research, presented at the American Heart Association meeting today, suggests that one treatment may offer some hope for these children.
The study found that these obese children had about an eight percent risk of having a heart attack, heart failure or other heart disease even in the next 30 years.
But after the 215 adolescents involved underwent bariatric surgery, such as gastric bypass or a sleeve gastrectomy, to restrict their stomach and decrease their appetites, their heart disease risks fell dramatically.
One year after surgery, the researchers’ statistical model predicted the the risk of a heart disease event would be cut in half – to four percent overall – and was sustained every year for the five years following surgery.
Assistant professor of pediatrics Dr Justin Ryder said: ‘This study clearly shows that the benefits of bariatric surgery to treat severe obesity, at least from a cardiovascular event perspective, outweighs the risk of having the surgery.
‘Teens with severe obesity are at high risk for having a premature cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack, stroke, heart failure and others by the time they are 50, which has significant implications in terms of their healthcare costs and their quality of life.’
The prediction model was applied to 215 teenagers with an average age of 17 taking part in the Teen-Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery (Teen-LABS).
The study was designed to assess the short and longer-term safety and usefulness of bariatric surgery in teens.
They had average BMIs – body mass index, a weight-to-height measurement – of 53.
The only evidence based intervention that works for patients with severe obesity is bariatric surgery. The data on other interventions is very discouraging
Dr Christopher Bolling, American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Obesity chair
In adults, that translates to a 5′ 5″ woman who weighs 320 pounds and a six foot man who weighs 390 pounds.
Bariatric surgery helps obese people lose weight by surgically altering the digestive system to quell their appetites.
In some cases that means making the stomach smaller, so a sense of fullness is more easily achieved, or shortening the intestines so that less food is absorbed.
Previous studies showed bariatric surgery resulted in substantial weight loss and the reduction of risk factors for heart disease in adults.
But, last week, a Harvard study suggested that these operations are under-utilized for teenagers, which chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics obesity committee, Dr Christopher Bolling says he ‘wholeheartedly agrees’ with.
‘The data over the past few years has been pretty clear. The only evidence based intervention that works for patients with severe obesity is bariatric surgery. The data on other interventions is very discouraging,’ Dr Bolling says.
Doctors’ slow adoption of bariatric surgery for young people may have been, in part, because it was unclear what the impact of such surgeries would be on reducing long-term risks of illnesses like heart disease.
But last month, a new study confirmed that heart disease risks climb in tandem with the number of years a person spends being obese.
Now, the University of Minnesota study has helped to answer the question of whether or not bariatric surgery helps reduce teens’ risks with a resounding ‘yes.’
‘Studies have led most of us in the field to believe that primary care physicians are too slow to refer for evaluation,’ says Dr Bolling.
‘Thinking that surgery is “too extreme” leads many doctors and families to allow obesity to progress for too long resulting in unnecessary complications,’ he adds.
Echoing his sentiments, Dr Ryder concluded: ‘These findings add another piece to the mountain of evidence suggesting that bariatric surgery is the most effective treatment for sustained reduction of weight and risk factors for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes in teens with severe obesity.’