At first glance, Brandon Barr is an average teenager; 18 years old, on the verge of graduating high school, an avid golfer, healthy and happy.
But this is the new and improved Brandon.
"I'm able to do anything that I thought was almost impossible before," he said.
Two years ago, he weighed nearly 340 pounds. He'd been diagnosed with high blood pressure and was well on his way to developing type 2 diabetes.
"Do you feel like your weight held you back from things you wanted to do, as far as looking into your future?"asked CBS Atlanta's Stephany Fisher.
"Definitely. People always had the judgment that, 'Oh he's big, there's something wrong,' or 'He doesn't do this right, doesn't do that right.' They kind of question your ability to do something," Barr said.
At 16, after trying every method he could think of to lose weight, Barr was accepted as a candidate for bariatric surgery at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. And in February of 2011, doctors removed 90 percent of his stomach.
When Barr first came to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, he was more than 130 pounds heavier than he is right now. Doctors said he showed a maturity and commitment to living healthy that amazed them.
"When you get to the kind of weight Brandon was at, it's very hard to see any sustainable and significant weight loss without an intervention such as bariatric surgery," said Dr. Stephanie Walsh. "Not everyone is ready for it and it's a very intense procedure, intense program to be in, but thankfully, Brandon was one of those kids who was really able to take it on."
Walsh is the medical director for Children's Health 4 Life Clinic, where kids like Barr come for help to lose weight and get healthy. She is on the front lines of Georgia's childhood obesity epidemic. And sadly, there's a steady stream of patients coming through the clinic.
"The typical child who comes here is in third, fourth, fifth grade. We tend to see a lot of kids who start to see weight gain around age 5, a really typical pattern," Walsh said.
The grim reality is Georgia's kids are in crisis. Nearly half of children in this state are overweight or obese, and on a dangerous path to serious medical problems.
"We're starting to treat a lot of children for adult diseases- things that they just shouldn't have to deal with," Walsh said. "These are real medical conditions that have a significant impact on the quality of their life. It really stops them from being able to just be kids."
"We've had to change protocols and change the way we look at kids and be prepared to treat diseases that as pediatric practitioners, we never thought we'd have to," said Dr. Mark Wulkan.
Wulkan is chief of surgery at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and runs the hospital's pediatric bariatric surgery program.
"Oh, we've seen hundreds," Wulkan said. "How many have you performed surgery on?" asked Fisher.
"About 50. So it is a rare event. You don't want this to be the quick, easy fix. This is really for kids who've exhausted all other possibilities," Wulkan said.
Surgery at any age is risky, particularly for children. But, Wulkan says for kids like Brandon Barr, it's truly a last resort.
"We have kids that have diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart disease, sleep apnea. Those diseases are going to kill them. It's safer to do the surgery than it is to let them live with all those co-morbities," Wulkan said.
Childhood obesity rates in the United States have tripled in the last 30 years. And weight-related health problems are now cropping up in kids as young as two years old.
"What do you blame for this? What do you think is the primary reason that childhood obesity has become such an issue for us?" asked Fisher.
"I wish there was one primary reason that I could blame, because then we could actually just fix that," said Walsh. "But the reality is, it's so multi factorial, and it's been coming on for 30 years. This isn't something that happened overnight. This has been a slow progress and that's part of the reason it's been so hard for people to deal with, because when something happens that slowly, you don't always notice it."
To get peoples' attention, Children's Healthcare launched a controversial ad campaign. A survey found 75 percent of parents with overweight kids failed to recognize it was an issue, so the campaign was designed as a wake-up call for moms and dads who were in denial. But, did it work?
"I think it was successful in that look at all the conversations that we're having now about it," Walsh said.
"It actually elevated the conversation to a national level, and I think that's very important," added Wulkan. "The first step to making any change is understanding that there's a problem."
But Children's work isn't done. It is now urging parents and caregivers in every household to have "the talk" with kids - not about sex or drugs, but about their health.
"The talk actually starts with yourself. So as a parent, it's my responsibility to say, 'How do I want to make my family healthy? How are we doing now?' Go online, get one of our evaluations and look at it and say where are the areas I can work on? Where are the areas I'm already doing well? Talk to yourself about how you feel about your weight and your activity level, and how best to integrate healthy habits into your family. You have to really find out what works for your family and take one small step," Walsh said.
For Barr, surgery was a big step towards regaining his health and hope.
"How much has this benefited your life? Fisher asked.
"Huge, I can't even describe how amazing this is," Barr said. "I can actually express how, show how Brandon is and not be shy and hide it back."
"Brandon can make plans," added Barr's mother, Nina Barr.
His new, active lifestyle and healthy diet have brought Barr a lot of positive attention. "It's nice getting girls saying on Facebook, 'Oh, you're cute.' Didn't really get that before."
"The best part about seeing Brandon afterwards - and it's not the weight loss or the fact that he looked great in his tux at the prom - it's the fact that he no longer has to take his blood pressure medication," Walsh said.
But surgery is not the answer for most kids, and it's not a cure.
"I tell all the kids, bariatric surgery does not make you thin. You make yourself thin. It's just a tool to help you get there," Wulkan said. "Even if you've had surgery you can still sabotage it. We don't have a 100 percent success rate. So you need to be engaged and you need to make the healthy habits and make the changes."
Four health habits every family should keep:
They may seem small, but together can make a big difference. And it all has to start with the parents.
"As parents, it's our responsibility to model good behavior for our kids. You can't tell your child 'You can't have ice cream,' while you're eating potato chips. You've got to get the whole family engaged," Wulkan said.
"How was it to have your mom's support, your who family's support," Fisher asked. "It was huge. I knew no matter what I was going to go through, I had somebody there in my corner of the ring," Barr said.
And with a solid support system, Barr is determined to stay on track towards a long, healthy life.
"I'm just a whole new person and thinking a whole different type of way."
Click here for more information on Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Health 4 Life Clinic, or tips on how to have "The Talk" with your children.
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