Is weight loss surgery safe for teens?

TV’s ‘Honey Boo Boo’ sets off debate with announcement

Last week, 16 year-old reality star Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson announced that she was considering surgery in order to lose 145 pounds, after multiple failed attempts at losing weight.

Weight loss is a common topic on many Americans minds, and the process can often seem hopeless. For people whose weight loss struggle has hit a wall, doctors sometimes recommend an endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty, or ESG.

In an ESG, doctors insert a thin, flexible tube into the stomach that creates accordion-like folds. The folds reduce the stomach’s volume by up to 80%, making a person feel full faster and less likely to overeat.

Due to the ESG’s less invasive structure compared to other weight loss surgeries, it has been floated as an option for people who typically would not be advised to get weight loss surgery. But Thompson’s announcement brought up a question: Is weight loss surgery safe for teenagers?

ExploreHoney Boo Boo undergoing weight loss surgery

The ESG procedure is currently only authorized for adults 18 or older. However, from a physical perspective, the procedure is safe for all bodies due to its minimally invasive nature.

“The procedure is quite safe. And there’s at least one large study that showed that it’s safe and effective, but there’s a much bigger issue here,” said gastroenterologist and obesity medicine specialist Dr. Christopher McGowan in an interview with PEOPLE.

McGowan thinks the issues with the procedure for adolescents is more tied to its possible mental effects, due to their lack of emotional maturity.

“The question is, is it the right procedure for that person at that time in their life?” said Dr. McGowan.

While an ESG may seem like a quicker solution for weight loss, there are still multiple lifestyle changes that need to be added in order to maintain the weight loss. These include diet changes and regular exercise. Due to these factors, Dr. McGowan personally does not recommend the procedure for anyone under the age of 21.

It’s a concern that that individual is not ready to really engage in the process long term and they just won’t do well. They won’t make the necessary changes,” he said.

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