Why do people get weight loss surgery?

Obesity trends continue to increase at an alarming rate, especially in the U.S. Today, more than one-third of all Americans are overweight, and an estimated 5 to 10 million Americans are morbidly obese. In 1995, about 10 to 14 percent of the U.S. population was considered obese. In 2005, that number increased to approximately 20 to 30 percent.

According to the CDC, in 2008:

• Only one state (Colorado) had less than a 20-percent obesity rate.

• Twenty-six states had at least a 25-percent obesity rate.

• Six states (Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia ) had a 30 percent or greater obesity rate.

• In Arizona, close to 25 percent of the population is considered obese.

The idea that obesity is just a lack of willpower is not only an over-simplification, but also is unscientific and wrong. Obesity is a disease with many contributing factors including genetics, environment, metabolism and eating disorders. Recent studies show that at least 70 percent of adopted children follow the weight patterns of their biological parents, not the parents who raise them.

Due to its complexity, overcoming obesity can be difficult. The combination of the excess weight, medications for other health conditions, genetics and the inability to be active make the process extremely difficult if not near to impossible. Fortunately, weight loss surgery is now an option for many.

Weight loss surgery is sometimes thought to be a "cosmetic" procedure and is "the lazy way to lose weight." This is not true. Individuals who undergo weight loss surgery must go through a rigorous process, including showing evidence of weight loss failure with traditional diets and weight loss medication.

Studies have shown that:

• Diets (800-1500 calories), exercise and behavior therapy only yield about an 8 percent weight loss over six months and 95 percent of the weight is regained over time. No published studies demonstrate significant lasting results.

• Medications for weight loss yield about a 6-10 percent weight loss and the weight is often regained within the first year after stopping the drug.

Weight loss surgery is an important tool for those individuals who have tried to lose weight and have been unable to do so with traditional diets, exercise and medication. It allows them to finally lose the weight and get their health back.

The most common and successful weight loss surgeries include:

• Lap-Band Surgery: Yields an average of 40 percent of excess weight loss within the first year. That is 40 pounds for someone who is 100 pounds overweight. The lab band is positioned around the upper portion of the stomach and can be adjusted to be more or less restrictive depending on the needs of the patient. Many times lab band surgery can be performed as an outpatient surgery.

• Laparoscopic Sleeve Gastrectomy: Yields an average of 57 percent excess weight loss within the first year. With the sleeve procedure, the surgeon removes approximately 85 percent of the stomach, shaping the remaining stomach into a tube or "sleeve."

• Laparoscopic Gastric Bypass: Yields an average of 60-80 percent excess weight loss within the first year. That could mean up to 80 pounds for someone who is 100 pounds overweight. With gastric bypass, the stomach is cut, making a small pouch that is then connected to the small intestine, limiting the body's ability to absorb calories.

When the excess weight is lost, many people have improvements and sometimes even resolution of their chronic illnesses and conditions: Sleep apnea is resolved 74-98 percent; asthma is improved or resolved 82 percent; Type 2 diabetes is resolved 83 percent; high blood pressure is resolved 52-98 percent; and the list goes on and on!!!

Additionally, there are many benefits that are not as easy to measure, such as an ease of movement in their daily lives, desire and ability to exercise more, less pain in bones and joints. People who have had weight loss surgery report a 95 percent improvement in their quality of life and a 55 percent reduction in feelings of depression.

If you are considering weight loss surgery, you are invited to attend a free information session at Flagstaff Medical Center. The sessions are the second Tuesday of every month from 6 - 7 p.m. in the Northern Arizona Healthcare Education Center, 1000 N. Humphreys in the Fort Valley Shopping Center, just south of the hospital. The sessions include a presentation by a surgeon on the causes and complications of morbid obesity and the types of surgeries available, with time for questions and answers following the presentation. No registration is required for this session. For more information on the sessions or on weight loss surgery at Flagstaff Medical Center, call 928 214-3737 or visit FMCBariatrics.com.

Celeste Hebets is a physical therapist and coordinator of FMC's Bariatric Surgical Weight Loss Center.

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