Get Gastric Bypass Surgery Now, Have Deformed, Brain-Damaged Babies Later

Filed under: News, In The News, Weird But True, Nutrition: Teens, Research Reveals: Teens, New In Pop Culture

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The long-term risks of gastric bypass surgery are largely unknown. Credit: Angelo Cavalli/Getty Images

Gastric bypass surgery may help teenage girls squeeze into their prom dresses -- if they don't mind having deformed and brain-damaged children later on.

Faced with the disturbing prospect of diet and exercise -- which can take weeks, even months of commitment before yielding results -- more and more overweight teens want to drop the pounds (now) by getting their stomachs stapled.

However, a report presented at the American Association of Pediatrics in San Francisco last week showed that girls who go under the knife risk losing the ability to absorb enough Vitamin B9, or folic acid, which is needed to have healthy babies.

The babies could be born with deformed spines or brain damage, warns Diana Farmer, chief of pediatric surgery at Benioff Children's Hospital at the University of California in San Francisco, who presented the report.

Too little is known about long-term consequences of the gastric bypass surgery, she tells Bloomberg.com.

"The possibility of future birth defects may outweigh the benefit of this bariatric procedure," Farmer says.

Most people know by now that tubby teens have become a big enough problem to draw the attention of first lady Michelle Obama. Some 17 percent of children and teens ages 2 to 19 are fat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

And, of course, whenever you have a problem, there is a quick and potentially dangerous solution to it.

Bloomberg.com reports gastric bypass surgery and other bariatric procedures among young people rose sixfold between 2001 and 2009. At least 220,000 kids reportedly had their stomachs stapled or went through some other form of fat surgery last year.

Farmer's report suggests that kids who get gastric bypass surgery can't absorb enough folic acid in the upper intestine. Folic acid provides a major safeguard against spina bifida and other neural tube defects.

That's why adults who get the procedure take vitamin supplements to counteract this effect. But guess what? Kids don't take their pills. Farmer's study says limited research shows only about 14 percent of teenagers remember to take their vitamins.

That's a problem, Bruce Wolfe, a Portland, Ore., surgeon and president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, tells Bloomberg.com. But so is going around looking like a beach ball with legs.

"You can't just write off these birth defects because they are rare," he says. "But there are adverse effects from the obesity, as well. So the practical and ethical dilemma is at what point do you deny a tremendously beneficial procedure."

Farmer tells Bloomberg kids still have time for losing weight the old-fashioned way.

"I am not saying the procedure should be ruled out or that obesity is not a problem," she tells the news agency. "But no kids are dropping dead at the age of 18 from obesity."

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