As an issue which provokes uproar and discontent in the media, it remains to be seen how long the topic of obesity will remain in the headlines. However, for the time being, the subject of obesity is very much the buzzword in the health service and for the media.
In a previous article on an obese UK family, The Chawners, I briefly touched on a form of surgery that is used to tackle obesity known as bariatric surgery. This article will look into the issue of bariatric surgery in greater detail and in accordance with a new programme on the Biography Channel, My Big Fat Operation shown from Tuesday 6 March at 9pm.
The new series looks at people suffering from dangerous levels of obesity and their lives before, during and after bariatric surgery. This form of surgery involves a stomach bypass and having a gastric band put in.
A laparoscopic adjustable gastric band, commonly referred to as a 'lap band,' is an inflatable silicone device placed around the top portion of the stomach to treat obesity by reducing excess body fat.
Adjustable gastric band surgery is an example of bariatric surgery designed for obese patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 50 or greater - or between 35-40 in cases of patients with certain comorbidities (two or more coexisting medical conditions or disease processes that are additional to an initial diagnosis) that are known to improve with weight loss, such as sleep apnea, diabetes, osteoarthritis, GERD, Hypertension (high blood pressure), or metabolic syndrome, among others.
Why is obesity so commonly targeted by the British media? This is not a hard question to answer, but it is important to consider it if we are to look at the issue of bariatric surgery, and whether this form of surgery provided on the NHS should be paid for by the tax payer.
Bariatric surgery is an option in severely obese patients, where lifestyle/medication have been evaluated but found not to be effective. Surgery can be combined with other treatments such as therapy to allow patients to overcome obesity. Referrals are usually made via a specialist obesity management service. There are clear guidelines from NICE about who should be considered for bariatric surgery.
Alarmingly one million people in the UK would benefit from weight loss surgery. In 2011 less than 7,000 people were operated on, but there are a considerable number of people who are obese and could be in line for bariatric surgery. And with obesity costing the country more than smoking related illnesses it could be described as a "ticking financial time bomb" for the NHS.
It is very easy to take sides with the media who tend to pour scorn on the obese, but watching this programme has made me realise how far this bariatric surgery has improved the lives of the people involved.
The first episode looks at Shanel Edin who before her operation used her money to spend on double or even triple the money spent on food by someone engaging in a normal diet. She talks of a "hate for food with a passion," and she feels better when she eats but only for a short while, then she feels bad again.
What I have gathered from this new series on obesity is the positive influence bariatric surgery has had on all of the cases. With Yvonne's case in the second episode, you see instantly the positive affect that bariatric surgery can have.
Before 43-year-old Yvonne's operations, she was used to compulsive over-eating around 7,000 calories per day, emotional trauma, an eating disorder, anxiety, and had spent a year in therapy.
Julie Sharp, aged 42 and mother of two, built up significant weight gain after the breakdown of her first marriage. She was 26 stone, started eating the odd biscuit too many and as she became more unhappy, the more weight she piled on.
Weight for her was very much a social stigma. It made her agoraphobic, scared of meeting people out and about. She got laughed at in the street, and this ruined her life to the extent she was too scared to leave house feel as she felt so ashamed. It is cases like Julie's where you realise how engrossing obesity is, and how much it affects mental health.
It has only been in the past two years since the medical profession considered food an addictive substance. But food is better described as something people can become very preoccupied with. Yvonne used to buy food in secret and get rid of evidence. She had to hide food, stash away, and spends an hour per day hiding food and four hours a day eating.
Yvonne's preoccupation with food also affected her partner, because she did not want to leave the house, attend social events and could not spend time doing things with her husband that he wanted to do, such as ride her husband's bike. It is Yvonne's case that has made me realise the negative affect obesity can have on the family as well.
Although the cost of obesity surgery may be huge, performing bariatric surgery on an obese person could be a good solution as it could lower the chance of patients getting diabetes or hear disease. So the operation, although expensive, could reduce the long terms expense needed to treat obese patients. This include treatments for heart disease and diabetes.