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The Weight Loss Surgery team understands that being severely overweight can have a tremendous effect on a child's life — now and throughout adulthood. Our guiding principle is that weight loss surgery (also known as bariatric surgery) should only be considered after all other attempts at reaching a healthy weight have failed.

Weight loss surgery can be a safe and effective option for a child whose obesity has resisted all other types of treatment. However, it’s important to understand that this surgery will affect his or her life, both immediately and for the long term.

The first step is learning all you can about weight loss surgery. Here are some of the most common questions patients and their parents ask.

Is weight loss surgery an effective weight loss option for adolescents?

Bariatric surgery can be a useful tool for adolescents to help break the vicious weight gain cycle and to achieve long-term weight loss and improve overall quality of health. Studies find that more than 90 percent of weight loss surgery patients are able to maintain a long-term weight loss of at least 50 percent excess body weight. However, it’s important to remember that weight loss surgery is a “tool.” Success depends on many other important factors, such as nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle changes.

How does weight loss surgery work?

Gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy work by changing the anatomy of the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and digestive system) as well as changing energy balance and fat metabolism. The end result is that weight loss surgery helps reduce hunger and increase the feeling of fullness.

How overweight does a child need to be to have this surgery?

The child needs to be at least 100 pounds over his or her ideal body weight (a BMI greater than 40, or greater than 35 if the child has medical problems).

Are there any possible complications with this surgery?

While there are possible complications with any type of major surgery, complications with weight loss surgery are rare. They can include difficulty swallowing, infection, bleeding, pneumonia, vitamin deficiency, and dumping syndrome. About one-third of people who have rapid weight loss also develop gallstones. Your surgeon will go into more detail about the specific complications with you and your family. If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know.

Is weight loss surgery a long-term solution?

Weight loss surgery can produce long-lasting weight loss and improve many health conditions related to obesity, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, polycystic ovary syndrome, joint pain, acid reflux, irregular periods, and high cholesterol. However, for best results it’s very important to continue a healthy diet and lifestyle after surgery.

Is there a minimum age to have this surgery?

Our patients are typically teenagers, ages 13 and older, who are close to finishing their growth. However, our triage team evaluates patients on a case-by-case basis.

How do you handle the problem of loose skin after weight loss?

After losing a large amount of weight, many patients have loose, flabby skin in areas such as the stomach, thighs, neck, and underside of the arms. In many cases, patients want to have plastic surgery to fix this problem. We will help you arrange this when the time is right, usually a few years after surgery.

Do you offer other options for adolescent weight loss besides surgery?

Boston Children’s Hospital offers several medically supervised programs that can help with weight loss. Our intake coordinator can help you find the program that’s right for you or your child.