A big gain for weight-loss surgery

Image of bariatric surgery procedure

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: The Centers for Disease Control says almost two-thirds of us are carrying around more weight than we should. It's a pretty safe bet most of us are keen to lose those pounds. But losing's the easy part. Keeping the weight off is more difficult. Which has, in part, led to the increasing popularity of weight-loss surgery. Helen Palmer reports now from the Marketplace Health Desk at WGBH, a couple of studies out today seem likely to push even more people to think about going under the knife.


Helen Palmer: Today's New England Journal of Medicine compares death rates for people who had weight-loss surgery with a matched group who didn't.

Ted Adams: Those in the surgery group decreased death rates from any cause by about 40 percent.

Lead author Ted Adams of the University of Utah says cancer rates in people who had the surgery dropped 60 percent. Diabetes deaths fell more than 90 percent. So it's plain that there are health benefits to the surgery. But that doesn't mean more people should have the operation. Internist George Bray wrote an accompanying editorial. Think of the cost, he says.

George Bray: The healthcare system has a great many demands on it. Where does this cost fit in that priority scheme?

Currently people only qualify for the surgery if they're severely overweight or have an accompanying illness like diabetes. Then public programs like Medicare will pay, but not all private insurance will pick up the tab. Philip Schauer, head of weight-loss surgery at the Cleveland Clinic says they should pay. He says the surgery's cost effective because obese people run up big medical bills.

Philip Schauer: They're constantly seeing the doctor. They're sicker. They're less productive. So you add up all those costs and the costs of surgery can generally be paid for itself in three to five years.

Some disagree. Marion Nestle lectures at New York University's department of nutrition. She says surgery's an extreme and dangerous way of controlling calorie intake.

Marion Nestle: And it's being looked at as the panacea to the weight-loss problem. I think it's not.

In October, the National Institues of Health will meet to consider revising the guidelines for weight-loss surgery.

In Boston, I'm Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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