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Published: Thursday, 2/15/2007

Hold the scalpel on teens

AS SHOCKING as it once was, it is becoming more common for teenagers to have surgery to improve their looks. Girls have breasts enlarged or reduced, tummies tucked, and eyelids lifted. Now the latest trend in our image-conscious society is weight-loss surgery for obese teens. It makes you wonder, whatever happened to self control?

Surgery is never to be taken lightly. It would be a dangerous trend for teens to start lining up at the surgeon's for a quick fix for their obesity. But more teens are dangerously overweight than ever, and a few may actually need something as drastic as weight-loss surgery because of additional serious health problems.

Those who work hard to exercise and eat right may think the morbidly obese should simply demonstrate more self-control. Fortunately, even teens with the worst weight problems can't just get the OK for surgery by showing up and saying "I can't help it, doc." First, they must go on conventional diets under hospital supervision. If that doesn't work, they may then become candidates for weight-loss surgery.

What seems to be a growing acceptance of weight-loss surgery on teenagers is worrisome, though. The medical community is doing its best to promote caution. The Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center is examining how children respond to these surgeries, and three other hospitals have U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to study how kids do with a gastric band.

Meanwhile, the Journal of Pediatric Surgery says New York University Medical Center has performed the surgery on 53 teens who lost half their excess weight on account of the surgery.

Still, it's a scary trend because nobody knows the surgery's long-term effects. It's far better to teach young people from the beginning to eat right, exercise, and show some self-control. That's not always easy - but it is a lot safer.

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