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Your Health: When doctors recommend weight loss surgery for children

The life-saving procedure helped one girl lose over 100 pounds.

HOUSTON, Texas — One in three adults is overweight. One in 11 is severely obese, and almost half of those obese men and women were once obese boys and girls. More than ever before, our children are facing a health crisis that could impact them for the rest of their lives. That’s why now, doctors are turning to some very adult solutions to help children get their weight back on track.

For as long as she can remember, Harley Boaz felt different.

“People stare at you. People judge you. They think that all you do is sit at home and eat. I never got numbers from guys, never was called cute, never was called pretty,” she says.

At her heaviest, Harley weighed 285 pounds and she was struggling with adult health problems.

“I was diagnosed with hypertension, which I was hospitalized for, which was very scary. I was prediabetic. I had high cholesterol,” Harley mentions.

Texas Children’s Hospital metabolic and bariatric surgeon, Dr. Shawn Stafford explains, “We're seeing comorbidities in these kids now, that we never saw in people until their forties and fifties before. So, early intervention is the key.”

A multidisciplinary team at Texas Children’s Hospital is helping their obese pediatric patients by offering them a comprehensive plan starting with 6 months of mental health and nutritional counseling followed by surgery.

“Everybody that rolls through the door doesn't get surgery. They have to demonstrate over the course of this preoperative period that they're motivated and that they're capable of making mature decisions about changing a lifestyle and making it stick,” Dr. Stafford further explains.

Harley opted for a sleeve gastrectomy.

Dr. Stafford says, “We remove 80 percent of the outside of the stomach. So, the stomach that's left is about the size and shape of a banana.”

One year after surgery, Harley had lost a hundred pounds.

Harley expresses to Ivanhoe, “My diagnosis started to get better. It was life-changing for me. I have been asked out and given numbers more times this year than I have in my whole life.”

Harley’s road to weight loss was not an easy one. After surgery, she was on a strictly liquid diet for one month, followed by two months of only soft foods. But for kids like Harley, it’s a life-saving decision. The CDC reports adults who are obese at the age of 40 can expect to die three to six years earlier than someone who is not overweight. While research has deemed the procedure safe for kids and teens, less than one percent of morbidly obese kids undergo the procedure.

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