Young people treated with bariatric surgery for severe obesity did not experience better mental health in the 5 years following their procedures, Swedish researchers said, and indeed fared worse than their nontreated peers on certain measures.
The results of this study do not necessarily argue “that metabolic and bariatric surgery during adolescence causes mental health problems,” the investigators wrote in the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, but “it is reasonable to conclude that metabolic and bariatric surgery does not result in a substantial alleviation of mental health problems in adolescents with severe obesity,” and that “long-term mental health support should be required in programs providing adolescent metabolic and bariatric surgery.”
Kajsa Järvholm, PhD, of Skåne University Hospital, in Malmö, Sweden, and colleagues reported results from a prospective nonrandomized study that recruited 81 adolescents in Sweden aged 13-18 years (mean age, 16.5) who had a body mass index of 40 or higher, or BMI of 35 with obesity-related comorbidities and who underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass for weight loss. Subjects were matched by age, sex, and BMI to 80 controls (mean age, 15.8 years) who were assigned to conventional nonsurgical treatment. All patients were assessed at 1, 2, and 5 years.
Although mental health treatment, including use of psychiatric drugs, did not differ between the groups at baseline, during the follow-up period the subjects who underwent surgery saw 15% more impatient and outpatient mental health treatment, compared with controls, a significant difference. About a quarter of patients in the surgically treated group required specialized mental health treatment for the first time after their surgeries.
Though the surgical group lost much more weight – mean BMI was 32.3 at 5 years, compared with 41.7 for controls – none of the mental health changes from baseline were significantly associated with percentage change of BMI at 5 years.
The findings from the study are consistent with results from studies in adults in which bariatric surgery improves many health outcomes but does not alter the need for mental health treatment. Although 5 years is a longer follow-up than in previous studies in young patients – a key strength of the study – Dr. Järvholm and colleagues acknowledged some weaknesses, including a nonrandomized design, lack of a comparison group of nonobese youths for mental health measures, a small sample size, and a surgical procedure that is now out of favor in adolescents.
The study was funded by Swedish government and health foundations. Dr. Järvholm disclosed pharmaceutical industry funding not related to the study, and three coauthors also disclosed industry relationships.