Some doctors will recommend this surgery if a child’s weight poses a greater health threat than the potential risks of the surgery. Risks of adolescent obesity include diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems, liver problems, lung and breathing issues and increasing pressure in the brain that can cause vision impairment or blindness.

When Is Weight Loss Surgery the Answer to Adolescent Obesity?

Exactly when an adolescent should undergo weight loss surgery is controversial. It depends on the severity of obesity-related health problems faced by the individual patients. This individualized decision should be made on a case-by-case basis with the medical team.

According to guidelines set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2004, adolescents under consideration for weight loss surgery should: 

  • Have failed six or more months of organized attempts at weight management. This should be determined with the assistance of a doctor.
  • Have attained or nearly attained physiologic or skeletal maturity. This generally occurs at age 13 or older for girls and at age 15 or older for boys.
  • Be severely obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of greater than 40, with serious obesity-related problems; or have a BMI of greater than 50 with less severe obesity-related problems. (Other organizations, including the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, have less stringent weight criteria for teens, due to the severity of medical problems that obese adolescents now face.)

BMI takes height and weight into account to measure body fatness. For children and teens, BMI is age- and sex-specific and is often referred to as BMI-for-age. After BMI is calculated for children and teens, the BMI number is plotted on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) BMI-for-age growth charts (for either girls or boys) to obtain a percentile ranking. [For more information on body mass index and to try an adult BMI calculator, please read our article on obesity and weight loss surgery. To use the CDC’s BMI calculator for children and teens, please click here.]