While that statistic may be alarming, it is especially concerning considering that obesity increases the risk of many diseases and health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, hypertension, stroke, liver and gallbladder disease, respiratory problems and osteoarthritis.
If you are obese or overweight and have been repeatedly unsuccessful with losing weight through diet and exercise alone, gastrointestinal surgery, also known as bariatric surgery, can be a viable treatment option, not only to help you lose weight but also to potentially prevent, improve or resolve the health conditions listed above.
We spoke to Michael Lee, M.D., a bariatric surgeon and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Denton and at Lee Bariatric Surgery, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, to understand how weight-loss surgery can improve your quality of life and health, and what you should take into consideration before surgery.
While there are many types of weight-loss procedures available, all aim to restrict the amount of food you can eat, allowing you to eat slower and providing feedback when the wrong foods are eaten or if you eat too much food, something Lee compares to a watch.
“A sophisticated watch doesn’t make someone early or late. Instead, it provides useful immediate information and feedback so we can make better-informed decisions that ultimately result in an outcome,” Lee explains. “Bariatric surgery is that internalized tool that lets someone who is struggling with their weight know exactly when they’ve overeaten to keep portion sizes in check. But bariatric surgery does not make people lose weight. It helps prevent people from overeating and that’s what causes the weight loss.”
Although the surgery addresses the physical challenge of weight loss, Lee stresses that the surgery doesn’t replace the need to actively work at managing the amount and type of food you eat, which is why he and his team also address the mental and emotional challenges of weight loss.
“There are several types of bariatric operations, but none work without a substantial degree of knowledge and effort on your part and the help and guidance of an expert team,” he explains. “Help and guidance after surgery is key to both losing weight and keeping the weight off in a healthy way.”
Weight loss is just one of the many health benefits achieved through bariatric surgery. According to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, surgery improves type 2 diabetes in nearly 90 percent of patients, while 78 percent of patients see a remission of their diabetes symptoms for years.
Weight-loss surgery can also improve cardiovascular health by reducing blood pressure and potentially lowering bad cholesterol levels. Research also shows that surgery can decrease coronary heart disease by 40 percent.
Surgery can also improve joint health or make joint-replacement surgery a viable option. According to the Arthritis Foundation, every pound of excess weight exerts about four pounds of extra pressure on the knees. So if you are 50 pounds overweight, you have an added 200 pounds of pressure on your knee joints.
“Imagine wearing a 50-, 100-, 150-, 200-, or 300-pound backpack,” Lee says. “Obesity can cause premature wear and tear on any major weight-bearing joint and also cause other aches and pains due to compensation. Not controlling one’s weight can also compromise a knee, hip or back repair. Losing weight before any major orthopedic operation will speed up recovery and also prevent many hospital-related complications due to blood clots and cardiovascular disease.”
An analysis of 68 studies found that almost one-quarter of obesity surgery candidates have a mood-related disorder, with depression being the most common. Losing excess weight can improve emotional health, especially in those whose depression is caused by poor body image.
Lee notes that excess weight can alter how our body regulates our hormones, which can affect fertility among other issues.
“Being obese can alter many of our hormones that regulate blood sugar and also our reproductive system,” Lee explains. “With weight loss, there are dramatic improvements in blood sugar levels. In men and women, sex hormone alterations can lead to infertility due to the alterations in testosterone and estrogen production. In addition, being obese not only increases the perinatal risks for the mother but also the baby.”
With obesity and its associated health complications rising in the United States, weight-loss surgery can be a powerful tool for providing sustained improvement in the health and quality of life for someone struggling with their weight. But Lee says weight-loss surgery should be held under careful consideration by both the physician and the patient, just as with any other surgery.
“I often meet people from all walks of life who suffer from the same problem and have tried the same things only to unfortunately obtain the same disappointing results,” Lee says. “Repeatedly doing the same things while hoping for something better but not achieving better results is extremely disappointing and, for a lot of people, demoralizing. It causes people to give up, not just on dieting and exercise but also life in general.
“For those who have not had success with diet and exercise, bariatric surgery remains the safest and most effective method for weight loss. I would add, though, that surgery is for the committed patient who can provide a lifelong commitment toward improving his or her nutrition and following up with a medical specialist. Success depends on the individual, and each has a different goal.”
Texas Health understands that support doesn’t end after surgery; it’s a lifelong endeavor, which requires a lifetime of support. Texas Health offers a variety of tools to assist bariatric patients on their journey to renewed health. These services include:
- Patient education
- Bariatric coordinator
- Seminar sessions
- Nutrition counseling
- Support group meetings
- Mental health evaluation and counseling
- Physical therapy
- Testing and lab work
- Financial counseling
Many hospitals also offer bariatric patients a unique opportunity to take advantage of a fitness center with a staff of experienced professionals.
While bariatric surgery may seem like a cosmetic endeavor, weight-loss surgery goes far beyond the physical.