Despite new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, bariatric surgery for teenagers and children poses risks

In October 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidance to pediatricians that endorses increased use of weight loss or bariatric surgery for teenagers and even children. Based on my significant experience in handling bariatric medical malpractice cases, I shuddered as I read this new information.

American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations

The Academy’s new guidelines emphasize the well-known risks associated with a weight problem, including cardiac and metabolic problems that can cause damage to other vital organs.

Their logic is that metabolic and bariatric surgery have worked for some overweight adults, so why not take severely obese young people to surgery earlier and avoid those long-term damages altogether. Plus, they cite studies that have found that weight-loss surgery has a greater long-term success rate in patients who don’t have a body mass index (BMI) of greater than 50. In other words, the idea seems to be “the sooner the better” when it comes to taking a severely overweight young person to the operating room for bariatric surgery.

You might be wondering, what does “severely obese” mean to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Their recommendations define severe obesity as either a BMI of 35 or higher or the 95th percentile for BMI for the age and sex of the individual.

While the Academy points to current data that suggest that bariatric surgery can be safe and effective for young people with severe obesity, I recommend that parents tread with great caution.

Risks of bariatric/weight loss surgery

Whether performed on adults, teens, or children, bariatric surgery involves the permanent anatomical modification of a patient’s gastrointestinal tract and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Some surgeries remove part of the stomach, so there’s less room for food. Other surgeries modify the intestinal tract to interfere with absorption that’s an essential part of digestion.

The permanence of the surgical results and the necessary lifestyle changes are why virtually all bariatric surgeons recommend (or require) a significant trial of diet and exercise, a dietitian consultation, and even a psych evaluation before a patient proceeds with weight-law surgery.

Common bariatric procedures include hiatal hernia repair, gastric bypass, gastric sleeve/sleeve gastrectomy, adjustable gastric band, biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch, and Roux-en-Y gastric bypass. While these weight loss procedures have benefited many people, they aren’t without risk. Some of the risks include:

Gastroparesis: Nerve damage during surgery can cause the permanent loss of the stomach’s motility, which is required to digest food.

Gastric outlet obstruction: Some patients can’t hold down food or water after a bariatric surgery because the surgeon stitched up things too tightly.

Gastric/stomach strictures and fistulas can halt digestion because the flow of food and liquids is backed up.


• Intractable, chronic nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.

Many weight loss surgeons and clinics handle patients and procedures like an assembly line.

While that works okay for most patients, if you’re an unlucky patient who experiences complications, it can be difficult to get the surgeon’s attention. That’s what happened to many of my clients who had serious problems that went undiagnosed and untreated by their surgeons for so long that they became permanent conditions.

It’s sad to see people with nasogastric tubes taped to their faces or TPN pumps for nutrition. It’s heart-breaking to see people struggle to keep their weight up to 100 pounds. I’ve seen both situations many times with Painter Law Firm’s medical malpractice clients who had terrible complications from bariatric surgeries.

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured because of poor bariatric surgical care, either in the operating room or afterwards, then get in touch with a top-rated experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.