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Dealing With Teen Obesity

Aired June 19, 2003 - 20:47   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So how young, do you think, is too young to have gastric bypass surgery? The controversial operation known to help obese people lose large amounts of weight -- morbidly obese people. Well, tomorrow the American Society of Bariatric Surgeons is going to meet and discuss whether there should be an age limit on patients who undergo this kind of surgery, which used to be just for adults. And the reason they're debating this is because obesity among teenagers continues to rise. More and more kids are seeking out the process to help them lose weight.
And as CNN's medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen reports, it may help them live healthier lives, but it certainly raises some disturbing questions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jose Jimenez used to weigh 350 pounds. Then, last year, at the age of 16, he had obesity surgery -- what you may know as stomach stapling.

The surgery made his stomach smaller so he can't eat as much. The result? In seven months he lost 100 pounds and he's still losing.

JOSE JIMENEZ, ONCE WEIGHED 350 LBS.: I wanted something that would work for me, and I knew that the surgery would do that.

COHEN: So was Jose looking for a quick fix? He admits his attempts at dieting and exercise were half-hearted.

J. JIMENEZ: Once in a while I would try again to exercise habits. But normally that didn't -- that ended up not working out.

COHEN: His mother says she tried to get him to stop overeating.

WENDY JIMENEZ, JOSE'S MOM: I was always telling him you have to -- you know, "Don't do this, don't do that." But of course, the refrigerator there. Everything is there. They just eat.

COHEN: So this is the controversy around obesity surgery for teens: Some doctors question whether it's ethical to permanently alter a young person's body, especially if they haven't really tried to lose weight in a safer way. And they question whether a teenager is mature enough to commit to such a big decision.

DR. DAVID LUDWIG, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL, BOSTON: It's important to emphasize that obesity surgery has many severe, and in some cases, life threatening risks in and of itself. So how do we make the decision to proceed with something such as this in children?

COHEN: But Dr. Flancbaum, Jose's surgeon, says when anyone weighs 350 pounds, studies have shown diet and exercise don't usually work, and surgery really is the only solution.

DR. LOUIS FLANCBAUM, ST. LUKE'S ROOSEVELT HOSPITAL: They have diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and they're just walking time bombs by the time they get to be 30.

COHEN: Doctors on both sides of the issue agree: it's sad these days there are so many 350 pound 16-year-olds, and it's sad that the medical system couldn't help them before they got that big.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN: Now before obesity surgery, most people have a stomach about the size of a football, about this big. After the surgery, their stomach is the size of an egg. So you can understand why they can't eat very much food.

Now over time, their stomach will expand. So it will be about the size of an apple. So you can see it starts out the size of a football, ends up the size of an apple, and that's basically how the surgery works -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks for the explanation.

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