According to a new survey nearly ten times more people are resorting to weight loss surgeries in Australia over the past 10 years. In Australia one in five adults are now classified as being obese and this trend shows that public health messages about diet and exercise are not working.
The study from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found thousands of Australians are increasingly turning to operations such as gastric banding rather than traditional weight-loss methods. According to researcher Jenny Hargreaves there were 1,700 cases of weight-loss surgery in 1999/2000, compared to 17,000 in 2007/08. More women than men underwent weight loss surgery in 2008, despite figures showing the latter are more likely to be obese. The most common surgery was having a laparoscopic adjustable gastric band fitted. This device, placed around the stomach, compresses the stomach and reduces appetite. The Institute’s report, Weight loss surgery in Australia, found the average length of a hospital stay for a weight-loss procedure was just under two days.
“There is quite a bit of information around that people do rely on lifestyle factors to try and reduce their weight. They try to improve their diet or they try to increase physical activity… But it seems this data shows that more and more people are turning to weight-loss surgery as part of their attempts to lose weight,” Hargreaves said.
Worst part is that these surgeries cost patients thousands of dollars, but they also cost taxpayers. The survey shows weight-loss surgery cost the Federal Government about $15 million in Medicare benefits in 2007. Plastic surgeons say this trend is also reflected in private clinics, where a growing number of men and women are requesting liposuction for their stomachs, thighs, arms and necks for cosmetic reasons.
Australian Medical Association SA president Dr Andrew Lavender feels this trend is a pointer towards the rising obesity rates. He said surgery is the “last resort”. He explained, “They should have tried all other measures to lose weight before such a move (surgery) is recommended by medical professionals… It’s all about a balanced diet and exercise, but for some people this isn’t enough… We know gastric band reduction surgery is very safe and can be very effective, but it doesn't in itself deal with the obesity epidemic.”
According to Monash University Obesity and Diabetes Institute director Professor Michael Cowley there is no specific cure for obesity. “People recognize that their obesity is a health condition; they’re seeking treatment for it, but there’s nothing in the way of treatments that work other than surgery…And so patients go from being a little bit overweight and they begin the long decline and eventually they get to the point where they’re so overweight they have to have surgery,” he said.
Professor Lynne Daniels from the Queensland University of Technology also added that surgery is neither the only option nor the ultimate cure. “The cost would be completely prohibitive and there are also issues around side effects and quality of life… It’s not a population answer to this question. The population answers to this question are changing our lifestyle and it has to be done at numerous levels… We need better opportunities to be physically active. We need better opportunities to choose healthy foods,” she said.
In February, a major Australian study showed an increase in the number of juvenile gastric banding operations to tackle the growing prevalence of morbidly overweight children.