Experts said every surgery has risks, which include post-operative infection, bleeding and reaction to general anesthesia. Other risks specific to the Lap-Band procedure include device malfunction, and the shifting or wearing away of the Lap-Band.
But even so, Holup said that, because morbidly obese people have such a difficult time losing weight on their own, the benefits of the Lap-Band surgery far exceed the risks.
Dr. Caren Mangarelli, a pediatric obesity expert at Duke University Medical Center, agreed that the procedure is appropriate for a carefully selected group of mature teenagers as part of a comprehensive weight management program. But she said obesity needs to be evaluated carefully by examining genetics, lifestyle choices and environmental factors.
"In order to combat obesity, we need to come at it from multiple angles, including the use of more radical or invasive tools such as bariatric surgery," said Mangarelli. "That said, it is only one tool that needs to be used in the context of other lifestyle changes that the patients make."
Many people argue that Lap-Band surgery is more appropriate for teens than other surgeries, like gastric bypass, because it is reversible, it has a lower morbidity rate and it is less associated with nutritional deficiencies.
But other experts say there are not enough data to understand fully the long-term side effects and complications of the procedure.
"[This] is especially relevant when talking about putting the device in a younger patient population," said Mangarelli.
But other experts believe that the procedure is not dealing with the underlying causes of obesity and it should be used only as a last resort.
"As a society, we are woefully misguided if we rely on a surgical solution rather than do all we can to cultivate opportunities for every teen to be physically active and eat well every day," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center.
"I think [these surgeries] are symptomatic of a society that looks to pounds of cure while neglecting ounces of prevention," Katz said. "The mindset that surgery for weight control is anything other than a last resort is potentially quite harmful."
But Dr. Christine Ren-Fielding, associate professor of surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center disagreed, and said that many people turn on a healthier path after the Lap-Band procedure.
"Lap-Band surgeries help promote healthy lifestyles because they initially take away appetite and improve a sense of fullness with smaller portions of food – resulting in weight loss," said Ren-Fielding. "Once a teenager begins losing, they become more comfortable in participating in exercise and daily activities. They are both more physically able to do it, and less socially inhibited to try."
As for Jacy Johns, she joined her school's cross-country running team after surgery. She said she is now extra-cautious about what she puts into her body.
"The surgery now has made me 100 percent more aware," said Johns. "It would have been way too easy to give up if I hadn't had the surgery, but I already went and had the surgery, so now I'm dedicated to my health and weight."