Gastric Sleeve Surgery (GSS) involves removing part of the stomach and then joining the remaining portion to form a new banana-sized stomach or “sleeve” that is only around 10 percent the size of the original stomach. People who have had the procedure feel full faster and they’re unable to eat as much.

The surgery also removes the part of the stomach that creates a hormone responsible for feelings of hunger. The result of this combination is usually impressive weight loss. But despite its success, doctors have been hesitant to perform the surgery on children because they were concerned a young person’s muscular and skeletal growth could be inhibited.

Not only were there no surgery-related complications or deaths among the children and teens in the study, the participants lost an average of 30 percent of their total weight.

Now there may be a change in their thinking. A new study, the largest of its kind, concludes that Gastric Sleeve Surgery is a safe and effective option for obese children as young as five years old. That’s positive news because childhood obesity is a worldwide crisis. The World Health Organization estimates that 39 million children under the age of five were obese in 2020.

The study examined how safe and effective weight-loss surgery might be for children and teens by looking at the surgery's effects on 2500 Saudi children and young adults who were considered severely obese. Each participant in the King Saud University study was in the 95th percentile given his or her height, weight and age. The kids in the study ranged from five to 21 years of age, and one-third were younger than 15 years old. Prior to the surgeries, the patients had been involved in a six-month program that included diet and behavioral counseling in an attempt to lose weight.

Before the surgeries, about 10 percent of the young patients had type 2 diabetes or abnormal blood fats and about 15 percent were dealing with high blood pressure. Not only does obesity contribute to these conditions, it can also trigger fatty liver disease, sleep apnea and depression.

Gastric Sleeve Surgery for young patients is a safe and successful procedure, the study found. Not only were there no surgery-related complications or deaths among the children and teens in the study, the participants lost an average of 30 percent of their total weight. There was also a reversal of type 2 diabetes and heart disease risk factors. What’s more, ten years down the road, the GSS patients continue to see positive results in their health. Blood fat levels and blood pressure were normal in more than half of the patients who previously had these problems. The patients also continued to maintain an average of 71 percent weight loss.

“Our findings present clear evidence that should remove hesitance to perform bariatric surgical treatment in children and adolescents who could benefit from the operation,” said the study’s principal author, Aayed Alqahtani, professor of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at King Saud University. “If you surgically intervene early, you can cure children’s obesity-related diseases early and improve their quality of life, and if you wait longer, their diseases might become irreversible.”

Parents can help their obese children by providing plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grain products and offer non-fat or low-fat dairy products including cheese and yogurt. For protein, choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils and beans.

The study is published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.