Since 1980, obesity rates have risen significantly among American adults and children. The percentage of obese teens aged 12-19 have increased from 5 percent to 18 percent during this time period. Suffering from obesity at such a young age can cause serious health problems later in life, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and stroke. That’s why solving the childhood obesity epidemic is crucial for the next generations of young people.

A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine attempts to tackle this problem. It’s the largest and longest analysis of the effects of teen bariatric surgery, and it’s also first to conclude that surgery can have a lasting, significant impact on adolescent health. Because there aren’t too many treatments for obesity, teenagers often find themselves facing enormous health challenges that are difficult to overcome on their own. Surgery offers an effective way for them to lose weight and get on a healthier track.

The researchers examined 228 teens, all of whom weighed an average of 330 pounds or more. After bariatric surgery, the average weight loss among the teens was around 90 pounds — and many of the obesity-related health conditions that had disappeared right after surgery were staved off three years later.

For example, before the surgery, 75 percent of the teens had abnormally high levels of blood fat (including triglycerides) — and not enough good cholesterol. After the surgery, two-thirds of the patients no longer had unhealthy levels of blood fat or triglycerides. In addition, 40 percent of the participants had high blood pressure; afterward, it returned to normal in three-quarters of them. Finally, type 2 diabetes disappeared in 90 percent of the patients who had it — perhaps the most significant gain.

“I feel awesome,” Miranda Taylor, a nursing student at Christ College of Nursing and Health Science in Cincinnati who participated in the study, told ABC News. “It’s like a new life. I knew that this might not get me down to like model-size, which I wasn’t concerned about. I just wanted to be able to fit into a healthy size.”

There were a few drawbacks, however. Most of the participants were unable to keep all the weight off, and many gained some weight back. However, the fact that the surgery reduced other obesity-related health issue was “ultimately more important than actual pounds lost,” Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity expert at Boston Children’s Hospital who was not involved in the study, told ABC News.

To fully understand how bariatric surgery can help teens into their adulthood, the researchers would need to continue a study for much longer — measuring participants’ weight loss or weight gain, as well as health problems, throughout the years.

“We documented the durability of clinically meaningful weight loss and improvements in key health conditions and weight-related quality of life among adolescents who underwent gastric bypass surgery or sleeve gastrectomy,” the authors wrote in their conclusion. “These benefits must be viewed in the context of the risks of micronutrient deficiencies and the possibility that future abdominal procedures will be needed in some patients. ”

Source: Inge T, Courcoulas A, Jenkins T, Michalsky M, Helmrath M, Brandt M. Weight Loss and Health Status 3 Years After Bariatric Surgery in Adolescents. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2015.