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Who Can Get Weight Loss Surgery?

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD

What Is Weight Loss Surgery?

Weight loss surgery (also known as bariatric surgery) is a procedure done to help people who are very overweight and can't lose weight on normal diet and exercise plans.

Can Anyone Who Is Overweight Get Weight Loss Surgery?

Weight loss surgery works, but it's serious stuff. Doctors usually only recommend it for people who are very overweight. These are people who have more than 100 pounds of extra weight to lose and who face serious health problems if they don't lose weight.

People who get weight loss surgery have to prepare for the operation. But there's a lot to do after surgery too. Patients have to cope with the recovery time and learn to adjust to a whole new way of eating and living. That can be hard. Not everyone is ready for it.

How Do Doctors Decide Who Can Have the Surgery?

Figuring out if a teen is ready for weight loss surgery is a big decision. It involves a lot of people: patients, families, doctors, dietitians, exercise specialists, and psychologists.

Teens can be considered for weight loss surgery if:

  • They are at least 14 years old and have already gone through puberty.
  • They have a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or more as well as serious medical problems caused by weight, like diabetes or sleep .
  • They have a BMI of 40 or greater with less serious medical problems.

Weight and age are just part of it, though. Before someone can get surgery, doctors look at other things, including:

  • Is the patient healthy enough for the surgery? Doctors often work with patients to improve their health in the months before surgery. This can make weight loss surgery safer and more effective.
  • Is the patient emotionally mature enough for the surgery? People who get weight loss surgery may have to deal with pain, long recovery times, and complications. Patients must be prepared to accept and handle all of these things.
  • Does the patient know what's involved? The actual surgery is just one step in the weight loss process. What happens after the operation might be even more important than the surgery itself.
  • Is the patient serious about moving to a new way of eating and living after the surgery? People who get weight loss surgery can't go back to their old way of life. They need to follow a diet plan and exercise every day, take vitamin and mineral supplements, and go to all their medical appointments. If patients can't do these things, the surgery alone may not be enough to help them lose weight and keep it off.
  • Will family members help make the operation a success? Keeping to a new way of eating, exercising regularly, and going to appointments can be hard without help. Patients must have family members who can provide the practical and emotional support they need.

Making the Decision

Anyone thinking about weight loss surgery should have several meetings with doctors and psychologists to decide if an operation is the best choice. Sometimes, doctors don't think a person is ready. Other times, patients and their families decide that it's not the right option.

After hearing the facts about weight loss surgery, some people choose to try traditional weight loss options one more time — like eating better and getting more exercise.

Weight loss surgery is not for everyone. But the effort may be worth it for people who are very overweight and have serious health problems because of their weight. If you're worried about your weight or think you may benefit from weight loss surgery, talk to your doctor.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2018