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For Severely Obese Teens, Surgery

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Patients who undergo stomach surgery for obesity must remain under a doctor's care for the rest of their lives -- a huge commitment for a young person to make.

Kenneth B. Jones Jr., MD, is president-elect of the American Society for Bariatric Surgery. Over the course of his career he has performed the operation on fewer than 25 teens. He attributes his high success rate to careful patient selection.

"Most of these [teens] have done quite well," Jones tells WebMD. "In general, my impression is they have done as well as or even better than my adult patients."

Jones says that he will consider the surgery only for teens who have reached their full height and no longer have the nutritional needs of a child.

And he has one other requirement for these young patients.

"I think you have to seriously consider the motivation of the patient and how much they are being pushed into this by their parents," Jones tells WebMD. "You also have to evaluate how much they are going to be able to comply with the very intense dietary restrictions this requires -- and this can be particularly difficult for teens who eat so much junk food and drink so many sodas."

Jones stresses that the surgery is not in itself a cure for obesity.

"You can use this operation as a crutch or as a tool," Jones says. "The operation will almost automatically take a lot of weight off. But the ones that use it as a tool to go further, to get involved in regular exercise and a strict dietary program, will do a lot better."

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