Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix recently performed bariatric surgery on a 13-year-old girl as a treatment for obesity that runs in her family, marking the first pediatric surgery of its kind for Banner Health.

Chloe Hansher, of Queen Creek, underwent surgery in January to help minimize potential health risks associated with obesity. Chloe, an active eighth-grader and avid softball player has a genetic predisposition that highly increased her likelihood for lifelong health issues. The surgery also reduces her chances of passing along the same genetic risks if she chooses to have children one day and lessens her chance of a high-risk pregnancy.

Severe obesity affects the health and well-being of millions of children and adolescents in the nation and poses a major health crisis, according to a recent report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The prevalence of childhood obesity is increasing in the U.S. and globally. Eighteen percent of children (a staggering 13.7 million) in the U.S. are affected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a dramatic increase over 1980 when only about 7 percent of children were obese. Today in Arizona, obesity affects more than 30% of the population, up from 15% in 2019 according to data compiled by the State of Childhood Obesity project.

Currently, few effective treatments for severe obesity exist. Dr. Robin Blackstone, a bariatric surgeon at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, notes that metabolic and bariatric surgeries are the best-recommended treatment options for pediatric patients with severe obesity.

“Metabolic and bariatric surgeries are performed similarly on a child as they would be on an adult,” said Dr. Blackstone. “The biggest difference between a child or an adult undergoing this surgery is the preparation and follow-up processes, where a pediatrician and surgeon include family members of the child, to allow for the opportunity to create a community of support.”

Dr. Blackstone also highlights that diet and exercise can only help to a certain degree with weight loss, in some cases. This includes obese pediatric patients with similar genetic makeup to obese parents, as in Chloe’s case. Bariatric or metabolic surgery could prevent health complications in early adulthood for these children.

Chloe’s mother, Kristi Hansher, also had the surgery in early adulthood and supported Chloe through the process, along with the rest of the family.

Along with talking to a bariatric surgeon, pediatric patients who could be possible candidates for the bariatric procedure also meet with a psychologist and a dietician before surgery. These experts provide resources and are part of the multi-disciplinary team that helps with the decision-making process. This includes addressing the ways the dramatic transformation resulting from surgery can impact patients physically and mentally.

In late 2019, the Dr. Robin Blackstone Childhood Obesity Center of Excellence was established at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix to increase resources to tackle this growing health concern. This year, Dr. Blackstone and her team of experts expect to treat more than 100 adolescents who may be eligible for bariatric surgery.