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NPR: Bariatric Surgery Helps Teens With Severe Obesity Reduce Heart Disease Risk

By Tara Haelle

After three years, teens with severe obesity who underwent stomach reduction surgery to lose weight also significantly improved their heart health.

A study published in Pediatrics shows that blood pressure, cholesterol, inflammation and insulin levels all improved, particularly among those who lost the most weight.

"The potential impact of such risk reduction translates into a reduced likelihood of developing significant heart disease later in life, including atherosclerosis, heart failure and stroke," says study author Marc Michalsky, surgical director of the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, in an email. "This study serves to reinforce the benefits of bariatric surgery as a safe and effective treatment strategy that should be considered sooner rather than later."

Younger adolescents in the study showed bigger improvements in their cholesterol and inflammation levels than the older teens. Even participants who had normal-range blood pressure, triglycerides or cholesterol levels before surgery saw improved measures.

Nearly a third of all children and teens are overweight or obese in the US, and an estimated 4 to 7 percent have severe obesity. The greater a person's obesity, the greater their risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and organ damage.

The findings are important because many of the participants in this study likely already had some level of cardiac damage, such as thickened arteries or heart walls, says Geetha Raghuveer, a pediatric cardiologist at Children's Mercy Kansas City in Missouri who was not involved in the study.

"If you have very high blood pressure or lipids [cholesterol] or diabetes, you do see cardiovascular changes even at a very young age," Raghuveer says. "They may not be having a heart attack or stroke in their teens and 20s, but they're closer to having those in their 30s and 40s."

The big question is, how do we prevent obese kids from getting to this point where they would need an invasive surgical procedure? The bigger message should be that we should get to a point in society where we are not managing obesity, but we are preventing obesity.
Geetha Raghuveer, MD, MPH, Pediatric Cardiologist at Children's Mercy

Read the full article via NPR.

Learn more about the surgical weight loss program at Children's Mercy.

Learn more about pediatric cardiology services at Children's Mercy's Ward Family Heart Center.