Weight Loss Surgery for Teens

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Weight loss surgery may be an option for teenagers ages 14 to 18 who have tried to lose weight for at least six months through a medically supervised, comprehensive weight loss program. Weight loss surgery can be a tool that helps your teen achieve their weight loss goals, become more active, and improve their self-esteem. It can also help them control or lower their risk for serious health problems they may have now or develop in the future.

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How Teens Prepare for Weight Loss Surgery

Before being considered for weight loss surgery, adolescents must be enrolled for at least six months in a comprehensive weight loss program that uses a team of specialists to help them adopt healthy lifestyle habits and address medical concerns related to obesity.

The Duke Children’s Healthy Lifestyles Program 
Our comprehensive family-centered lifestyle intervention program works closely with the bariatric team when teenagers qualify for weight loss surgery. Our dietitians, mental health counselors, physical therapists, and medical providers care for children and adolescents who have a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile for their age. We tailor your child’s treatment to your child’s condition. In addition to encouraging healthy lifestyle habits, we may offer medications and specialized diets to support healthy weight loss. In addition to these advanced therapies, weight loss surgery may also be recommended.

Paying for Weight Loss Surgery
If your teen is considering weight loss surgery, it is important that you check with your insurance plan to verify that weight loss surgery is included for adolescents. Some plans exclude weight loss surgery as a benefit for people under the age of 18.

Our Locations

Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.

Once Your Teen Qualifies for Weight Loss Surgery

Physical Exam and Medical Tests
If your teen meets the necessary qualifications to be referred for weight loss surgery, they will meet with the bariatric team and undergo an extensive physical exam. This often requires special studies and occasionally consultations with other specialists if related medical conditions are present. We use this information to recommend the safest, most effective surgical approach for your child. 

Nutritional, Psychological, and Lifestyle Evaluation
Your teen will also meet with a psychologist and dietitian who will help them understand the commitment they are about to undertake and how they can prepare for life after weight loss surgery.

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Safety of Weight Loss Surgery in Teens

Experienced Surgeons
While weight loss surgeries are generally safe for teens, each procedure carries its own set of risks and possible side effects. Having an experienced surgeon minimizes the likelihood that complications will occur. Our board-certified, fellowship-trained surgeons perform about 800 bariatric surgeries on adults each year. Studies show that surgical experience is an important indicator of a successful outcome.

Laparoscopic Approach Means Smaller Incisions, Faster Recovery
In most cases, your teen’s surgeon will make small incisions in the abdomen through which instruments, including a video camera, are passed to visualize the area and perform the procedure. Sometimes, surgeons may use devices such as magnets or robot-assisted surgery to enhance their surgical flexibility and precision. This minimally invasive surgery approach:

  • Shortens hospital stays (typically one night)
  • Leaves small scars
  • Promotes faster, less painful recovery 

Sometimes a larger abdominal incision is necessary based on your teen’s weight, body shape, and surgery history.

NC-Accredited for Weight Loss Surgery
We are North Carolina’s only weight loss surgery program for adolescents accredited by the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program -- and one of the few in the country. You can be confident that your teen is in expert hands. 

After Weight Loss Surgery

Once your teen has recuperated from surgery, they will meet regularly with the specialists in the Duke Children’s Healthy Lifestyles program. Our pediatricians and dietitians will help them overcome the challenges associated with major lifestyle changes. Our physical therapist will help them adhere to an exercise regimen designed to make them stronger and more mobile.

Fertility Concerns Following Weight Loss Surgery
Among the benefits and risks of weight loss surgery is the increase in fertility following the procedure. This is a concern among teenagers who may experience the positive outcomes of improved self-esteem, body awareness, and socialization. We have honest discussions with your teenager about these and other concerns that may impact their life after surgery.

Post-Surgery Body Contouring
If unwanted, loose skin and tissue hide the results of weight loss surgery, our skilled plastic surgeons can work with your teen to smooth and shape his or her body and ensure he or she feels and looks their best. (This is typically not covered by insurance.)

A badge from the American College of Surgeons and American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery for an Accredited Center Quality Program
Bariatric Center of Excellence

Duke Regional Hospital is accredited by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery for its high standards of care in weight loss surgery. 

This page was medically reviewed on 04/08/2020