New Weight-Loss Procedure Has People Swallowing Balloons

Courtsy of Obalon
Obalon Balloon

Jimmy Fallon has already made a joke about it on air.

“Weight is one of the last taboos in American culture,” says Marina del Rey’s Grant Stevens, M.D., F.A.C.S., who adds that 70 million people in America are obese. “Telling these people struggling to eat less and exercise more, or to drink a celeb-touted tea, smoothie or muffin is not really working.”

There are indeed plenty of star-endorsed programs, powders and beverages (see any Kardashian’s Instagram feed or Oprah’s Weight Watchers commercials). And while the high-profile folks advertising these are clearly not ashamed, the latest weight-loss method to hit the market is probably not something we’ll be seeing celebrities make public.

Dr. Stevens is one of the first doctors in the U.S. to use the Obalon Balloon System, which received its FDA approval in September and became available to patients in January. We know it’s on the verge of making waves since Jimmy Fallon, on his June 17 show, joked about it. “I heard about a new procedure where people swallow balloons to lose weight. Sounds crazy, right?” he said. And while it does sound a little nuts, it is actually the premise, which is already responsible for some of Stevens' patients losing more than 40 pounds.

Obesity is categorized with a BMI (body mass index) of 30 kg/m2, and Obalon is approved for patients with between 30 and 40 BMI (or between 30 and 100 pounds overweight) who haven’t been able to lose the extra weight with diet and exercise alone. It’s a six-month commitment that takes 10 minutes to initiate. In the physician’s office, a patient swallows a capsule containing a small balloon, which the physician inflates. One month later they’ll swallow another, and two months after that a third. At the end of the treatment period, all three balloons are removed via an outpatient endoscopy under light conscious sedation.  

“The buoyant balloons are about the size of a small orange and weigh approximately three grams (about a penny) and float at the top of the stomach so patients do not experience the severe nausea that can come from other gastric devices,” says Dr. Stevens, who says it’s very rare that a patient suffers mild abdominal pain or nausea. The balloons take up space in the stomach, helping the patient eat less, but do not hamper physical activity. The balloons are in combination with professional nutrition and exercise support to help facilitate lifestyle changes that will lead to long-term loss. The average cost for the treatment program ranges from $6,000 to $9,000.

Since launching, Dr. Stevens says he has more and more potential patients coming to see him every Wednesday check-in day, and he expects that interest to continue growing. And while he can’t name names, Dr. Stevens says, “I am sure there are people in the Hollywood community who are using this as a tool to prep for an upcoming movie or to get back to their pre-baby body.” It’s even more appealing to bold-facers because it can be kept completely secret. “Obalon will absolutely gain celeb buzz,” he says. “There are no telltale bandages or downtime, so it is everyone’s best-kept secret.”