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Gastric Band Surgery Offers Hope for Obese Teens

Fifteen percent of American teenagers are obese. Now, some doctors are suggesting that gastric band surgery can help those most overweight. The NewsHour looks into the surgery, which involves placing an inflatable band around the stomach.

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  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT, NewsHour Correspondent:

    Seventeen-year-old Taylor Hamrick and her mother arrived at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Medical Center late last year to talk about a procedure they hoped would change Taylor Hamrick's life.

  • DR. ALLEN BROWNE, Pediatric Surgeon:

    Any new problems?

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    At 257 pounds, Hamrick was already facing possible knee surgery because of her weight, and she had developed sleep apnea.

    Fifteen percent of American teens are obese. That number has risen 300 percent in the past 30 years, says Dr. Allen Browne, medical director of the New Hope weight management program at the UIC Medical Center.

  • DR. ALLEN BROWNE:

    It affects their quality of life. It also affects them in their school performance. It affects them in many psychological ways, as well as clinical ways, in terms of sleep apnea, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Because the health risks from obesity are so high for teens, Dr. Browne recommends adjustable gastric band surgery.

  • DR. ALLEN BROWNE:

    This is the adjustable gastric band itself. This is the tubing that connects the band to the reservoir that lives underneath the skin. Then we snap this in place like that around the stomach. We will put in a needle in here, through the skin, and with that we can blow this balloon up that's on the inside of here. And that makes it harder for things to go from the upper pouch to the lower pouch.

    The food goes through the normal pathway, and this is why there are no inherent vitamin, mineral, protein, nutritional issues associated with the band, because the food goes right through. This is strictly a portion control system.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Dr. Browne says adjustable gastric band surgery is less risky than a gastric bypass, where a small part of the stomach is permanently stapled and rerouted to the small intestine, limiting the amount of calories and nutrients absorbed.

    In 2005, UIC Medical Center began the first FDA-approved study looking at the safety and effectiveness of gastric band surgery for teenagers. This spring, a multi-institutional industry-sponsored study aimed at securing FDA approval for the gastric band surgery for kids between ages 14 and 17 will begin.

  • TAYLOR HAMRICK, Surgery Patient:

    The peer pressure, wanting — you see all this media on TV of these little girls in bathing suits, and these Barbie doll images, and you want that.

  • ELIZABETH BRACKETT:

    Hamrick says she has lots of friends back home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She went to her prom with them last year, but says even her best friends don't realize how hard it is to be heavy.

  • TAYLOR HAMRICK:

    All my friends are, you know, little-bitty things, and it's hard to find clothes and boys, and it's been such a struggle.

    LESLIE HAMRICK, Mother of Surgery Patient: There have been times when she has come in and I have held her because, unfortunately, some people have not seen the struggles that she's gone through.