Should you have weight loss surgery?
As a society, we’ve become obsessed with dieting. The Atkins diet, the 5:2 diet – we’ve come up with so many ways to lose weight that it’s a miracle we’re not all wasting away.
In fact, we’re doing the complete opposite. In 2011, a study found that 24% of British men and 26% of British women were obese. In the US, the figure stands at around 34.9%.
We’re facing an obesity epidemic, with easier access to food and a more sedentary lifestyle leading to a lot of us piling on the pounds at an unprecedented rate.
It’s no surprise, then, that a raft of miracle ‘cures’ for obesity have cropped up over the past decade or so, the most prominent being weight loss surgery.
Weight loss surgery consists of two ‘main’ procedures; gastric band surgery and gastric bypass surgery. Both have more or less the same outcome, with the patient losing a significant amount of weight in a short space of time.
The difference lies in the way the procedures are carried out. Gastric band surgery involves strapping an inflatable ‘tube’ around the top of the stomach, leaving a small opening for food to reach the lower half of the stomach. This significantly reduces the amount of food a person can eat.
A gastric bypass involves ‘dividing’ the stomach into two sections, a small section at the top and a larger ‘remnant’ section at the bottom. The small intestine is then rearranged to attach to both sections of the stomach. A gastric bypass causes physio and psychological changes to the body, with food in the top section of the stomach making a patient feel fuller.
On the face of it, these surgeries seem like a perfectly safe and reasonable way to speed up the weight loss process and address the problem of obesity in society. However, as with any surgery, weight loss procedures come with a high element of risk. They can also have serious implications on the rest of a patient’s life.
Who can have weight loss surgery?
Not everyone can have weight loss surgery. Generally, it is reserved for people with a BMI over 40 who have tried, and failed, to lose weight in the past. If you do quality for surgery, you’ll be asked to undertake a low calorie diet drawn up by a dietician beforehand, as well as undertaking an exercise regime.
In addition, an obese person may be subjected to rigorous physical and mental tests, to determine the risks of any health issues development post-surgery.
The cost of weight loss surgery isn’t exactly cheap, either. In the UK, some surgery is carried out on the NHS but otherwise, private surgery can cost anywhere between £8,000 – £15,000 (about $13,000 – $25,000).
On the whole, weight loss surgery has been proven to work and the average weight loss post-gastric band is half of a person’s excess weight. A gastric bypass averages around 2/3 of a person’s excess weight.
What are the risks of weight loss surgery?
The reason pre-operation assessments are so rigorous with weight loss surgery is the inherent risks of such a procedure. Doctors, when determining if a patient is suitable for surgery, will usually balance the risks of the procedure against the risks of obesity to a patient’s overall health.
The most obvious risk of weight loss surgery are the risks inherent in any surgical procedure. Although most weight loss surgery is carried out under general anesthetic, it is a delicate and difficult procedure to carry out and accidents can happen. If something does go wrong, you might be entitled to clinical negligence compensation although the physical and psychological impact will be longer lasting.
Even if the surgery does go to plan, there are still a lot of post-surgery risks that can lead to massive changes in a person’s lifestyle.
The biggest change is the amount of food a person can eat. A gastric band patient can only eat very small portions at a very slow rate; even something like eating slightly too fast can overload the stomach and lead to vomiting. Making this adjustment in diet and lifestyle can be overwhelming for many patients otherwise used to consuming food to excess.
Weight loss surgery has also been associated with hernias, gallstones and other complications that might require further surgery.
Less obvious complications can include the development of anxiety and depression as a patient attempts to adjust to their new lifestyle and diet. The fact that food literally cannot be consumed to excess – eliminating the possibility for ‘days off’ where junk food can be eaten – can play heavily on the mental well being of weight loss surgery patients.
A drop in the amount of food consumed can also lead to nutritional deficiencies, especially if a patient doesn’t radically adjust their diet to factor in more vitamins and food of a high nutritional value.
There is no doubt that weight loss surgery has improved the quality of life for thousands of patients, but these success stories should not be held up as evidence of a miracle cure for obesity. The best way to combat obesity is to alter your diet and improve your levels of exercise, with or without the help of nutritionist and personal trainer. If you’re thinking about enquiring about weight loss surgery, think about the risks first and consider all other possibilities available to you for losing weight.