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Bringing Bariatric Care to Young Adults

Young adults between the ages of 18 and 22 who are obese have many reasons for wanting to lose weight, not the least of which is a concern about their health. Over the past several years, young adults with obesity and weight-related comorbidities who have not been able to successfully lose weight have become prime candidates for bariatric surgery. To help us understand more about bariatric surgery and the positive impact it has on young adults, we spoke to Dr. Luca Giordano, a bariatric surgeon at Abington – Jefferson Health’s Institute for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

Q: What is bariatric surgery?

Dr. Giordano: The root word of “bariatrics” is “baros,” which means “weight” in Greek. So in a literary sense, bariatrics is quite literally the treatment of obese patients. But in terms of bariatric operations, it’s a weight loss surgery intended to help patients achieve a lifestyle change. The surgery itself—namely gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy or biliopancreatic diversion—is the reshaping and restructuring of some of the stomach and small bowel. This is only part of what helps patients lose weight. It’s the ongoing, collaborative bariatric care, however, that creates this sustainable new lifestyle. Patients on this weight loss journey are backed by a multidisciplinary team supporting them, including dieticians, psychiatrists, nurses and surgeons.

Q: What are the risks associated with being morbidly obese as a young adult?

Dr. Giordano: It’s important to know that obesity and morbid obesity are diseases not because of cosmetic appearance, but because of the accumulation of fat, often leading to high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary artery disease, different types of cancer, infertility, balance issues, bone and joint health issues and more serious health conditions. Not only does this extraneous fat tax the body physically, but mentally as well, oftentimes leading patients to develop behavioral health disorders.

Because of these weight-related comorbidity factors, young adults are encouraged to try to lose weight naturally by increasing their exercise and sticking to a healthy, well-balanced diet. Unfortunately, studies have shown that more than 90 percent of individuals who diet regain all the weight they’ve lost in just six months after discontinuing their diet. It is for this reason that, after all non-surgical weight loss options have been exhausted, obese young adults should consider bariatric surgery.

Q: When does weight-loss surgery become an option for young adults struggling to manage or lose weight?

Dr. Giordano: Young adults should be considered for bariatric surgery from the moment they have a body mass index (BMI) above 35 and one or two comorbidity factors, or simply have a BMI of 40 or more. However, non-surgical options should be attempted prior to committing to this surgical solution. Our team helps patients to complete a diet trial to achieve some weight loss prior to surgery, and to instruct and educate patients on the healthy lifestyle that follows weight loss surgery.

The good news is, young adults who have bariatric surgery have proved to have greater weight loss success than older adults who have had this procedure. They’re also able to reverse or resolve type 2 diabetes and all the other comorbidities better than older adults. That’s why we encourage young adults to consider bariatric care. The procedure doesn’t exist for a better cosmetic appearance. It exists to help these young people achieve a healthier, happier life.

Q: What should patients know prior to considering bariatric surgery?

Dr. Giordano: Overall, patients should know that this process is much easier than they think. As with any procedure, there can be possible complications. But, the lifelong benefits from this surgery outweigh the potential challenges. The sooner young adults attack this condition, the easier it is to resolve. It’s time to take action against morbid obesity, especially when you’re young and can recover more easily. Losing weight is not an easy feat. This surgery is a commitment, but you will never be alone. There is a team of healthcare professionals waiting to guide you on the path toward a healthier future.

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