Is Lap-Band Surgery A Good Way To Fight Teen Obesity?

If approved by the FDA, Allergan could market its product to teens–and insurers might be more likely to give the go-ahead for the surgery, which can cost up to $20,000.

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Obesity is, in case you haven’t frequented a fast food joint recently, a major epidemic in the U.S. And bariatric surgery is (or should be) the last resort for obese people who just can’t seem to shed the pounds. It isn’t too pleasant–in one clinical study, 88% of patients had side effects from Lap-Band surgery, ranging from nausea to vomiting blood. Should this kind of thing be marketed to overweight teens? It might be, soon enough–Allergan, the company behind the Lap-Band–a silicon ring placed around the stomach to make it get full faster–wants the FDA to approve its device for teens as young as 14.


Minors are already technically allowed to get Lap-Band surgery with parental consent, according to the Los Angeles Times. But if approved by the FDA, Allergan could market its product to teens–and insurers might be more likely to give the go-ahead to perform the surgery, which can cost up to $20,000.

The most obvious problem here is that kids sometimes outgrow their weight problems; allowing a 14-year-old to get Lap-Band surgery discourages them from sticking with diet and exercise. But there’s another problem: the Lap-Band system has only been around since 2001. Allergan has no idea how safe an implanted Lap-Band might be once it’s been inside someone for 30 or 40 years, and kids probably shouldn’t be the guinea pigs. And what big pharma would do with those ads is scary to think about.

This doesn’t mean that children should just get gastric bypass surgery instead. Gastric bypass–a procedure that involves making the stomach smaller so that food can bypass part of the small intestine–may in some ways be safer for kids, since it doesn’t involve an implantable device. But it has a higher mortality rate than the Lap-Band, and it isn’t easy to reverse.

Approving Lap-Band surgery for kids probably isn’t the best idea, especially since the really determined teens can already get it. Instead of focusing on surgical fixes for obesity, kids and their parents might instead want to work on preventing the problem in the first place.

[Image by Flickr user Stuant63]

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.