This is Part 1 of a 2 Part Series

Recently reported the story of Shaina, a 242 lb teenager faced with some tough decisions: her obesity had resulted in a complication in which pressure builds up within the skull, damaging the optic nerve. Already suffering from vision loss, Shaina had to lose weight quickly or face imminent blindness.

“Even though I lost 20 pounds on my own, I needed to lose like 50 pounds.” ~Shaina, age 16

A doctor recommended bariatric surgery and Shaina had the procedure in February 2011. By May, she was already down to 184 lbs, the first time she can remember weighing less than 200, and has gone from a size 20 to a 12. “I had to get a whole new wardrobe,” she says.

More young people like Shaina, who are obese and often suffering from serious health complications, are choosing to undergo bariatric surgeries to help them lose weight. While fewer than 1,000 teens have the surgery in the U.S. each year (versus 200,000 to 250,000 adults), it is becoming more common among adolescents as obesity rates continue to rise.

On Wellsphere: The Problem of Childhood Obesity
Why Obesity Is Riskier than LAP-BAND Surgery for Teens

“There’s certainly more and more cases done every year, and unfortunately we’re likely going to continue to go that route,” says Shaina’s doctor, Evan Nadler, MD, the director of bariatric surgery and codirector of the Obesity Institute at the Children’s National Medical Center, in Washington, D.C.

Success stories like Shaina and those of celebrities like Al Roker, Carnie Wilson, Roseanne Barr and Star Jonescan sometimes give the impression that weight loss surgery is easy, but this is not the case, as any gastroenterologist surgeon should tell you. Though some bariatric procedures – like the LAP-BAND and the gastric plication, or pleat – are non-invasive with low risk of complication, many doctors are concerned that teens might have unrealistic expectations from the procedure.

Live Medical Webcast: Why Surgeons Are Calling Gastric Plication “The Next Platinum Standard” in Obesity Surgery

To guard against this, and help set realistic expectations about the necessary lifestyle changes that must accompany the procedure for optimum weight loss success, obesity surgical teams include not just a gastroenterologist surgeon and anesthesiologist, but also a psychologist skilled with obesity patients, as well as a team of physician nutritionists.

Not all weight loss surgeries are non-invasive – the RNY gastric bypass, the so called ‘gold standard’ of obesity surgery according to the National Institutes of Health, involves extensive stomach resection and intestinal re-routing. Complications (such as leaking along the surgical staple line of the remaining stomach pouch) are rare but always serious and sometimes even fatal.

As well, patients must commit to a lifetime of supplements – the RNY is what is known as a malabsorptive procedure; intestinal re-routing means calories as well as nutrients are not absorbed, speeding the weight loss resulting from reduced stomach capacity.

click here to read part 2 of the series

MedicalTravelTalk Radio: Interview with weight loss surgery Case Manager Leslie McDeavitt telling us about the new Green Zone LAP-BAND, helping patients lose faster with fewer fills.