Childhood obesity is a growing problem in this country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of obesity is nearly 14% among 2 to 5 year olds, 18% among 6 to 11 year olds and more than 20% in 12 to 19 year olds. Akron Children’s Healthy Active Living program is helping teens lose significant weight successfully—sometimes through bariatric surgery—and improve their health, both physically and emotionally. Follow one patient in her journey to weight-loss success in this 3-part series.
Meet Michaela Riley, a bariatric surgery candidate. She’s a 15-year-old fun-loving, tenacious Akron native struggling with obesity.
Unfortunately, this is nothing new for Michaela. She has dealt with weight issues her entire life, and has spent much of her adolescent years in and out of the hospital due to weight-related health concerns, including prediabetes, obstructive sleep apnea and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Obesity puts kids at a higher risk for PCOS, a condition in which the ovaries produce an abnormal amount of male sex hormones and can cause irregular menstrual periods, excessive hair growth, acne and infertility.
Michaela works hard to try and get her health in check, but it’s become a vicious cycle for her. She works out at the gym and even loses weight, but then gains it right back. Frustrated with her lack of progress, Michaela eats to cope with her struggles.
“I’m bullied a lot, and I’m unhappy with my weight and how I look,” she said. “I wanted to get to the gym and lose the weight naturally, but it wasn’t working for me. That’s when my mom encouraged me to try Healthy Active Living. My mom underwent bariatric surgery and has found success with it, and I hope to follow in her footsteps.”
Is bariatric surgery the best treatment for kids?
Children with obesity are at a higher risk for future chronic medical problems, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease and sleep apnea, and, therefore, a shorter life expectancy. Some kids experience back and joint pain, and other orthopedic issues because of the extra weight they’re carrying.
What’s more, kids who have obesity suffer from high rates of depression and anxiety, and experience bullying and stigmatizing at school and, in some cases, at home.
“Research shows only 2 to 15 percent of teens with severe obesity will achieve long-term weight loss through diet and exercise alone,” said Marnie Walston, MD, a pediatrician and medical director of Akron Children’s Healthy Active Living program. “Obesity is a complex disease and bariatric surgery can be a very important treatment for teens to lose significant weight and improve their health.”
Candidates for surgery typically are age 13 and older, have a body mass index of 40 or greater or a BMI of 35 or greater with weight-related health problems. Bariatric surgery reduces the size of the stomach, which limits the amount of food it can hold and helps patients feel full while eating less. It also alters gut hormones to improve metabolism and hunger levels to help patients be more successful with long-term weight loss.
“Michaela is a great candidate for surgery,” said Dr. Walston. “She has made several attempts to lose weight and has had modest success, but unfortunately, she still has more than 100 pounds to go. Bariatric surgery will help her lose the excess weight that is affecting her health and will be the key to long-lasting and successful weight loss. Patients have incredible improvement of lifestyle after surgery, gain more confidence and stop letting their size hold them back.”
How does Healthy Active Living help kids find long-lasting success?
Akron Children’s Healthy Active Living program brings together a multidisciplinary team of dietitians, exercise specialists, psychologists, pediatricians and surgeons specializing in pediatric obesity medicine to offer personalized support to children and teens struggling with serious weight-related concerns.
But before patients are approved for surgery, teens and their family must commit to at least 6 months of clinic visits to work on lifestyle changes necessary for success.
The program’s multidisciplinary team meets with a surgery candidate for coaching on healthy behaviors (healthy eating, regular exercise, proper rest and less screen time). In addition, they perform medical evaluations to ensure the patient is safe for surgery and treat any medical issues that might go along with excess weight.
“Our goal is to ensure kids heading into surgery have the education they need to be successful, such as eliminating sugary beverages and making exercise a habit,” said Dr. Walston. “We stress that surgery is not a magic fix, but in conjunction with their healthy lifestyle behaviors, kids will be a lot more successful.”
Dr. Walston is confident Michaela will have success in weight loss and she expects her health issues to improve, if not resolve. To date, Michaela has lost 30 pounds through the program. So, she knows Michaela can commit to a healthier lifestyle, because she’s doing it now.
“I’m excited about getting my health together,” said Michaela. “I don’t want to have to worry about my blood sugar and diabetes, and I’m hoping my PCOS will improve. My hope is to achieve happiness with myself, my weight and overall health. I know it’s a new day ahead. I have my support systems in place, with my family and Healthy Active Living, to keep me on the path to lifelong success.”
If your child is struggling with obesity, Akron Children’s Healthy Active Living program can help. Call 330-543-5673 to schedule an appointment.