More Australians than ever are turning to surgery to shed unwanted weight. Australia’s battle with the bulge is becoming a national health crisis. Indeed, burgeoning waistlines are on the rise, a recent CSIRO study found that 40% of Australians think they have gained weight during the COVID crisis.
For the almost two-thirds of Australians who are either overweight or obese and whose attempts at weight loss have been futile, should bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery) be regarded as the genie in the bottle?
Certainly, weight loss surgery is proving more popular than ever with the latest AIHW data showing an increase of 144% in the incidence of weight loss surgery in just over a decade.
However, not everyone with a weight problem will be eligible for bariatric surgery. You need to have a BMI of 40 or above (or 35 in some circumstances).
Those who do go under the knife are more likely to be women. 3 in 5 Australian women are overweight or obese and those choosing surgery are likely to be in the age range of 35-44.
Types of weight loss surgery procedures
In Australia, the most common types of bariatric surgery are gastric sleeve, lap band surgery (also called gastric banding), and gastric bypass surgery.
Gastric sleeve (sleeve gastrectomy)
The surgeon makes your stomach smaller by permanently removing part of it. As a result, you won’t be able to eat as much food as before. This is the most commonly performed weight loss surgery.
Gastric banding (lap band)
The surgeon uses a silicon band to tie off a section of your stomach and make it smaller. This has a similar effect on your appetite as the gastric sleeve, but you won’t experience as dramatic of an effect on your appetite.
The surgeon divides the stomach into two sections and reconnects the small intestine to the stomach’s smaller, upper pouch. You eat less, but you also absorb fewer calories from the food you do eat since your small intestine is involved. You may have to supplement with vitamins and minerals to make up for the lack of absorption.
Go in with eyes open
The problem with the rising trend in weight loss surgery is the misapprehension that it is not a serious medical operation. Bariatric surgery is not a ‘lunchtime procedure,’ like the many other cosmetic options available to Australian women such as Botox, chemical peels and similar.
Weight loss surgery is major surgery and involves discipline in the pre-surgery period. After the surgery, diet and lifestyle changes will be required as chances are your stomach or small intestine will have been made smaller so that you are forced to eat less than before.
There are many ways that the surgery can be mismanaged and when complications occur or errors made, the outcome can be devastating.
Weight loss surgery is regarded as a medico-legal ‘hot spot’ and many avoidable outcomes have been shown to have been operator dependent. Our experience of having handled or reviewed many cases over the years shows that women should choose their surgeon carefully. You should be prepared to ask your surgeon questions about complication rates and surgical outcomes. You can also check your surgeon’s qualifications, credentials and history of complaints at www.ahpra.gov.au.
We have seen the devastating impacts of negligently performed bariatric surgery and the harm such surgery has on the physical and mental health of our clients. Read our client stories here. Our expert health law team can help you if you have experienced complications, injury or trauma from bariatric surgery.