Is Weight Loss Surgery Advisable For Overweight Youngsters?

When Shani Gofman’s doctor first mentioned weight-loss surgery, she was only 17 years old and still living with her parents in Brooklyn. Though there was no doubt that she was overweight at five foot one and 250 pounds, she resisted this advice, saying she’d lose weight via diet and exercise. However, Dr Vayner told her, ‘It’s not your fault, but you’re not going to be able to do it.’


The effects of bariatric surgery on the wellbeing of younger patients are still a concern, as young people’s bodies are still developing, and they haven’t had much time to lose pounds on their own. Yet, doctors who do operate on younger patients note there is substantial evidence that dieting frequently fails. According to Dr Thomas Inge, a professor of surgery and paediatrics at the University of Cincinnati, ‘Most of us have witnessed the medical establishment provide the same advice over and over again to kids who are overweight — they just need to diet and play more outside. I wish it were that simple.’


Shani tried to improve her wellness by herself, but ended up gaining 30 pounds in eight months, so in December 2010, at aged 19, Shani’s mother took her to a consultation with Dr Danny Sherwinter, chief of bariatric surgery at Maimonides Medical Centre in Brooklyn. Sherwinter only performs lap-band surgeries, as they are reversible and relatively low risk, and he told Shani she could expect to lose about 40% of her excess weight, or 70 to 80 pounds, ‘If you don’t follow along the average way, like have a milk shake every night or don’t exercise at all.’


However, though Shandi was asked to prepare for surgery by going on a liquid diet, she privately reasoned, ‘I’m about to have surgery, so I might as well enjoy myself.’ According to Diana Zuckerman, a psychologist and president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, this is why teenagers are bad candidates for bariatric surgery: they are often immature, rebellious and uninterested in long-term consequences. ‘It’s not just you can’t eat Thanksgiving dinner. You’re going to have to have this tiny little meal for the rest of your life,’ says Zuckerman.


13 days after surgery, Shandi was 20 pounds lighter than she was at her last weigh-in, but as she still didn’t feel full after eating, she wanted her band to be made tighter. However, her doctor advised against this until 3 weeks later, but she still found eating healthy foods painful, and she was hungry all the time. When she visited Sherwinter after months of avoidance, Shandi had regained just under half of what she had lost. He tightened her band, so it now takes an hour and a half to force down two scrambled eggs. As she is fighting constant hunger and slow weight loss, Shandi admits, ‘I can’t wait till I’m skinny.’

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