Experts agree that obesity is a complex and large-scale issue. While the severity of the problem is clear, answers on what to do about it can be less so.
For many people with obesity, maintaining long-term weight loss through diet and exercise alone proves challenging. One solution, however, has been shown to help people lose weight and keep it off: bariatric surgery.
Despite its effectiveness, fewer than 1% of the 20 million people eligible for bariatric surgery pursue it as an option, according to the Obesity Society.
Obesity has become a health crisis of epidemic proportions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes it as a “common, serious and costly chronic disease” that affects both adults and children. The condition costs the U.S. health care system nearly $173 billion a year.
The problem continues to worsen. Between 1999 and 2020, the prevalence of obesity in the United States increased from 30.5% to 41.9%.
Obesity can take both an emotional and physical toll. It brings an increased risk for other health conditions including acid reflux, sleep apnea, joint pain, hypertension and high cholesterol. It’s also linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer. These are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death, according to the CDC.
Bariatric Surgery Proven Results
Bariatric surgery both helps you keep weight off for the long term and can resolve other health conditions. This not only improves your health but can save you money in the form of prescriptions that are no longer needed and the possibility of delaying or avoiding other procedures such as joint surgery.
Outcomes within 24 months of surgery include:
- 98% resolution from type 2 diabetes
- 99% resolution from acid reflux
- 95% resolution from sleep apnea
- 92% resolution from high blood pressure
“That’s the reason I went into bariatric surgery,” says Dr. Raymond Georgen, a general surgeon and co-director of the ThedaCare Bariatrics program. “Particularly in Wisconsin, we have so many people who are victims of diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea. Really, all the treatments we have out there are Band-Aids for those conditions.”
It’s exciting to be able to tell a type 2 diabetic that their chance of having the disease resolved, coming off of medications and attaining a normal blood sugar is over 90%, he says. “There’s no other medical intervention that comes close to that.”
How Bariatric Surgery Works
The ThedaCare Bariatrics program offers two types of weight loss surgery, both of which alter the anatomy of your body to help you lose weight.
On average, people will lose a total of 125 to 150 pounds within one year or later after bariatric surgery. Nearly 75% of patients keep their significant weight loss after five years.
A gastric sleeve resection removes approximately two-thirds of the stomach, taking it from the size of a football to roughly the size of a banana, Dr. Georgen says. The procedure leads to weight loss because there’s less capacity for food. It also removes a part of stomach called the fundus, which makes a hormone called ghrelin that makes you want to eat.
Roux-en-Y gastric bypass is the program’s most common and successful surgery. The procedure restricts the size of the stomach by partially bypassing the small intestine. It provides the fastest and most complete loss of excess weight and has immediate impact for people with type 2 diabetes and acid reflux, Dr. Georgen says.
After the procedure, when food goes through your digestive system, it will bypass most of your stomach and the first part of your small intestine. As a result, your digestive system won’t absorb all of the nutrients — and calories — in your food.
“It’s a very effective operation for people who have morbid obesity,” Dr. Georgen says of gastric bypass. “Virtually everybody has 50 pounds off at three months after the surgery, and I’ve had large men who could have 100 pounds off.”
Both surgeries offer a safe weight loss option. The risk of dying or suffering a major complication has gone down dramatically over the years, Dr. Georgen says. The use of robot-assisted surgery plays a large part in that.
“At ThedaCare, we’re very blessed to have robotic technology that we deliver every day in our program,” he says. “To have that technology available literally at our fingertips is very important and has led to tremendous outcomes, including fewer complications, shorter hospital stays and less pain.”
Weight loss surgery is an option if you have a body mass index (BMI)of 35 or higher and another significant health risk factor — such as type 2 diabetes or sleep apnea — or if you have a BMI over 40. Calculate your BMI.
While bariatric surgery is both safe and effective, by no means is it an easy solution. That’s why the ThedaCare Bariatrics team is there to support you every step of the way. The team includes surgeons, nurses, dietitians, exercise physiologists, counselors and care managers. They work together to guide you through the process, from surgery preparation to the procedure itself to a lifetime of support afterward.
It’s a winning formula.
“People sometimes think of surgery as an extreme option,” Dr. Georgen says. “I would suggest that it’s the most effective option in combination with the program. It’s very satisfying as a physician to be able to change somebody’s life so profoundly for the positive.”