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End Obesity Operation Stigma, Specialists Say

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
End Obesity Operation Stigma, Specialists Say

By Mary Longmore of NZPA

Wellington, Sept 3 NZPA - Obesity specialists today called for an end to the stigma over obesity surgery in New Zealand, claiming it is the most effective way of losing weight and keeping it off.

Yet many obese people choose to keep their surgery plans secret as they feel ashamed.

"I personally think it's less to do with evidence and more to do with slight moralism; 'well, you should be able to lose weight in other ways'," clinical psychologist Frances Carter told NZPA.

"We will get patients, who will be quite careful about who they tell and who they won't tell about whether they're going to have surgery."

Dr Carter and surgeon Richard Flint of Christchurch's Southern Obesity Surgery spoke at today's national GPs conference in Christchurch on obesity surgery, pointing out it was becoming increasingly common as studies showed it to be most effective at prolonged and significant weight loss.

"We like to approach this from the reverse angle," says Mr Flint. "With so much to gain from obesity surgery, we should be trying to identify who should not get it."

Those under 18, over 65 or with heart and respiratory problems were ruled out, he said.

But Dr Carter said there were very few psychological problems which would count somebody out.

People with disorders such as depression, binge eating, "emotional eating" and alcohol abuse could all benefit, providing counselling or other support was offered first.

She said Cognitive Behavioural Therapy had been found very helpful for those with eating disorders, and to ensure surgery was subsequently effective.

"Previously, people have been saying, 'we have to try and predict who is suitable'...but who is not suitable?" Dr Carter said.

"There are very few things that would count somebody out.

"Often these people that we see, have tried diet and exercise for 25 or 30 years ... it works briefly and it doesn't keep the weight off," she said.

Yet there was still a stigma attached to it, with some GPs still reluctant to refer patients, "as they think it's too drastic, and (they) should be considering other options like diet and exercise".

"In the short and longer term, surgery is the best option -- just look at the evidence."

For example, a 40-year-old old man weighing 100kg could expect to lose an average of 20kg and maintain that weight loss for up to 20 years.

This culminated in around 13 years of increased life expectancy.

"I think patients need to be given all their options," said Dr Carter, in what she said was a message to GPs, family and friends.

The Ministry of Health estimates one in four adults are obese, making New Zealand one of the fattest nations in the world, with an increase in overweight children and adolescents.

The operation costs from $17,000 to $25,000 at Southern Obesity Surgery. Costs vary around the country depending on district health boards' funding.

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