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Akron Children’s begins pediatric bariatric surgery program focusing on teens, young adults

Dr. Mark Wulkan

01-14-2021 (Akron, Ohio)

Akron Children’s Hospital is now offering bariatric surgery for patients who meet appropriate criteria.

The new service is a planned addition to the hospital’s Healthy Activity Living Program, which brings together a multi-disciplinary team of providers to offer personalized support to children and teens struggling with serious weight-related concerns. The same team will work with candidates for surgery and, in addition to the surgeons, includes a pediatrician with special training in obesity medicine, a certified nurse practitioner, a pediatric psychologist, a dietitian, an exercise physiologist, and a social worker.

“Before surgery is an option, the teens – with a parent or another adult support person –commit to at least six months of clinic visits to work on the lifestyle changes necessary for success,” said Dr. Marnie Walston, the pediatrician who heads up the Healthy Active Living Program. “We treat the whole family in the Healthy Active Living Program.”

Candidates for surgery typically are between the ages of 13 and 21, have a body mass index of 35 or greater with medical concerns associated with obesity, such as diabetes, fatty liver disease, or sleep apnea, or a BMI of 40 or greater.

The surgical team is led by Drs. Mark Wulkan and Scott Boulanger. Dr. Wulkan, who has extensive experience with adolescent bariatric surgery, is the new chair of Akron Children’s Department of Surgery.

 The team plans to seek accreditation to become a center for excellence in adolescent bariatric surgery through the American College of Surgeons.

“We now have good data that shows that adolescents get the same benefits from bariatric surgery as adults,” said Dr. Wulkan. “Most importantly, the data shows that kids can actually have a better response in reversing high blood pressure, diabetes and other co-morbidities. So, it makes the case for early intervention – we want to prevent disease rather than reverse it.”

Dr. Wulkan said the difference between Akron Children’s program and adult bariatric surgery programs is family-centered care and having the pediatric experts who better understand children and teens.

“It’s a much more nurturing environment with the team being a cheerleader for the patients,” he said.  

Dr. Walston said that many teens struggling with obesity also have mental health challenges, such as depression and anxiety. And while the underlying conditions may still exist, post-surgery assessments generally show great improvements in “quality of life” scores for these teens and young adults.

Some patients will respond well during the six-month program and will make intensive lifestyle changes. But research shows that only 2 to 15 percent of teens with severe obesity will lose weight through diet and exercise alone.

“Heading into bariatric surgery, we’re making sure our patients have the education that they need to be successful, such as eliminating sugary beverages and getting into the habit of exercising. We stress that surgery is not a magic fix, but, in conjunction with their healthy lifestyle behaviors, they will be a lot more successful.”

To learn more about Akron Children’s Healthy Active Living Program, go to https://www.akronchildrens.org/departments/Healthy-Active-Living.html or call 330-543-5673.

Dr. Marnie Walston