Largest safety study on teen weight loss surgery finds few complications

HOUSTON - Nov. 4, 2013 - In the largest in-depth scientific study of its kind on the safety of teen weight-loss surgery, researchers report few short-term complications for adolescents with severe obesity undergoing bariatric surgery.

The study, published online today in JAMA Pediatrics, is the first to provide much-needed safety data on bariatric surgery for adolescents with severe obesity, a growing health problem in the U.S. and abroad. The findings represent the largest-ever multicenter, prospective study on the safety of weight-loss surgery among adolescents. Texas Children's Hospital, along with lead investigators at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and four other sites around the country, conducted this research funded through a National Institutes of Health grant.

The study was conducted from 2007 to 2012 and involved 242 patients with an average age of 17 and median body mass index (BMI) of 50.5. For reference, a 16-year-old girl of average height with a BMI of 50 has a weight of nearly 300 pounds. All participants in the study suffered from health complications resulting from obesity.

Thomas H. Inge, MD, PhD, the study's principal investigator, and colleagues in Houston, Columbus, Birmingham, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati examined major and minor complications occurring within 30 days of weight-loss surgery. Laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery was performed on 66 percent of the study participants, while 28 percent underwent vertical sleeve gastrectomy and another 6 percent underwent adjustable gastric banding. Information on complications was collected 30 days after surgery.

Initial data from the study suggests weight-loss surgery can be offered to adolescents with a reasonable expectation of short-term safety. Seventy-seven percent of study participants showed no post-procedure complications, and an additional 15 percent exhibited only minor complications, such as dehydration. Eight percent of the patients suffered major complications, such as reoperation. There were no deaths.

"These findings are an important first step in providing data on the short-term safety of bariatric surgery in adolescent patients," says Dr. Mary Brandt, director of the Adolescent Bariatric Surgery Program at Texas Children's Hospital and Vice Chair of Education of Baylor College of Medicine's Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery. "We know that these children are suffering from adult-type diseases at a much younger age. This surgery isn't just about weight-loss, but the positive implications it has on the comorbidities that they face as a result of their obesity as well. In fact, in select patients, bariatric surgery can help reduce the severity, and often times eliminate some of these diseases."

Further research is still needed to accurately gauge long-term risks and benefits for adolescents undergoing weight-loss surgery. The Teen Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery (Teen-LABS) is currently following these participants to collect this information.
Obesity threatens the health of millions of children and adolescents, particularly the estimated 4 to 7 percent of youth who are considered severely obese. Over the past decade, approximately 10,000 teenagers have undergone bariatric weight-loss surgery.

The Teen-LABS study included researchers from Texas Children's Hospital, Nationwide Children's Hospital, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the University of Cincinnati and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

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Texas Children’s Hospital, a not-for-profit health care organization, is committed to creating a healthier future for children and women throughout the global community by leading in patient care, education and research. Consistently ranked as the best children’s hospital in Texas, and among the top in the nation, Texas Children’s has garnered widespread recognition for its expertise and breakthroughs in pediatric and women’s health. The hospital includes the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute; the Feigin Center for pediatric research; Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women, a comprehensive obstetrics/gynecology facility focusing on high-risk births; Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus, a community hospital in suburban West Houston; and Texas Children’s Hospital The Woodlands, a second community hospital planned to open in 2017. The organization also created the nation’s first HMO for children, has the largest pediatric primary care network in the country and a global health program that’s channeling care to children and women all over the world. Texas Children’s Hospital is affiliated with Baylor College of Medicine. For more information, go to Get the latest news by visiting the online newsroom and Twitter at