The largest, longest study of teen obesity surgery shows huge weight loss and health gains can last at least three years, and many say it's worth the risks. "I feel awesome. It's like a new life," said Miranda Taylor, a Cincinnati nursing student in the study who had surgery when she was 16 and weighed 265 pounds. She lost more than 100 pounds, along with severe depression, pre-diabetes, and an obesity-related hormonal condition. Although she has since gained about 20 pounds, she's still healthy and has surpassed her initial goal of fitting into size 16 jeans—she wears size 14. Similar results for weight-loss surgery have been shown in adults, but there has been more reluctance to perform the operation on teens because of the risks—and until now, the long-term effects in a large group of young patients have been unknown.
Many of the 228 teens studied started out about three times heavier than what is considered healthy—almost 330 pounds on average. Their average weight loss was more than 90 pounds and for many, obesity-related health problems that vanished early after surgery remained at bay three years later. Still, after three years most remained obese—just 5% achieved a normal weight. And there were drawbacks: A little over half developed low iron levels, which can lead to anemia, and a few had vitamin deficiencies. About 13% required additional operations—most for removal of gallstones related to obesity but some were for bowel obstructions or hernias that may have been surgery-related. The study authors say the benefits from the most drastic way to fight fat still seem to outweigh the risks. But Mary Evans, who oversees obesity research at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, said the patients need to be tracked even longer "to really know what the effects are." The institute paid for the study, and several more years of follow-up are planned. Click for more. (Read more obesity stories.)