Obese people need help to transform their lives

Around a million people in the UK meet the qualifying guidelines for weight loss surgery
Around a million people in the UK meet the qualifying guidelines for weight loss surgery
Lloyd and Karen Clewer, the founders of Farm4Life, at Haslar Hospital, Gosport, where they store goods ready to send to Africa  (Picture by Habibur Rahman)

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You don’t need to be a celebrity to have weight-loss surgery, but certain slimline famous faces are high-profile proof of the benefits of going under the knife to improve health and appearance.

Fern Britton has shed more than five stone, Shameless actress Tina Malone lost 10 stone and former TV presenter Anne Diamond is six stone lighter, all after having gastric bands fitted.

Legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin also hit the headlines earlier this year after losing six stone post-op, although she denies having weight-loss surgery.

The number of weight-loss operations, also known as bariatric surgery, performed in England have increased massively from 238 in 2000 to 4,619 in 2009 and, according to a recent report published by the National Bariatric Surgery Registry (NBSR), the results of such surgery are impressive.

Within a year, patients lose more than half of their excess weight and four in five no longer suffer from associated conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Yet despite being highly effective and clinically safe, these operations are merely a drop in the ocean of need, says bariatric surgeon Alberic Fiennes, president of the British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society.

While around a million people in the UK meet the qualifying guidelines for weight-loss surgery, less than one per cent of those were treated by the NHS during the past two years.

‘The amount of bariatric surgery that’s done is the tiny tip of a huge iceberg of unmet need,’ stresses Fiennes.

People are prejudiced against obesity, he says, and surgery is viewed as the luxury solution to a self-made health problem.

But severely obese people simply can’t get well, he says.

‘People consider it to be an issue of moral weakness. This goes against the available evidence.

‘Appealing to people with obesity to exercise willpower to lose weight is like asking somebody to hold their breath for 10 minutes.’

People with severe obesity aren’t able to control their eating, he says.

‘Severe and complex obesity should be seen as an organic disease.’

Experts believe hormones that help normal people regulate their appetite and metabolism are deficient in severely obese people.

Certain physiological signals that might tell a person when they’re full no longer work, explains Fiennes.

‘There’s good evidence that one particularly important signalling mechanism relating to appetite suppression and the control of diabetes and metabolism is permanently suppressed or lost in people with severe and complex obesity.’

But certain types of surgery restore that signal, he points out.