Erasing Words

erasing_wordsWelcome to Gut Feelings, where surgeons write about an issue that is important to them personally. Erasing Words was written by Dr. Matt Brengman – bariatric surgeon in Virginia and Chair of the Insurance Committee for the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

Several days after Governor Chris Christie revealed that he underwent bariatric surgery, Representative Tom Reed of NY has now announced that he too had bariatric surgery, and has lost 70 pounds. The recent news of these two public figures choosing bariatric surgery to treat their current and potential weight-related medical conditions highlights a trend in healthcare. Obesity is a top cause of preventable death, and affects over 75 million adults in the USA. With substantial clinical improvements, a multitude of research results, and a significant group of healthcare professionals dedicated to the science of metabolic and bariatric surgery, these procedures have become lifesavers.

However, bariatric surgery is misunderstood and misrepresented. It is unfortunate that reporters refer to bariatric surgery as a “last-ditch treatment” for morbid obesity.   The fact is, bariatric surgery is the only treatment scientifically shown to result in substantial, sustained weight loss in patients who are severely and morbidly obese.  There are now many studies showing the effectiveness of surgical weight loss in the treatment of dozens of diseases, including diabetes, heart and vascular disease and cancer.  Weight loss surgery should no more be considered a “last ditch treatment” for those patients who are 100 or more pounds overweight, than lumpectomy and mastectomy would be considered “last ditch” treatments for breast cancer.

In the recent weeks, two high profile politicians have chosen weight loss surgery in its various forms to improve their health and quality of life.  These were sensible decisions based on quality scientific data, and made in conjunction with expert medical professionals who understand the complexity of obesity.  The bariatric and metabolic procedures that we perform should not be referred to as “quick fixes,” “last ditch efforts,” or “drastic measures”. Instead, they are the best treatment options for a substantial number of morbidly obese adults. The decision to have surgery should be taken seriously, and between an expert in treating obesity, and a well-informed patient, the best decision can be made on an individual basis without pressure from those who believe that simply having more self-control – and trying harder to eat less – will solve the complex battle fought with obesity.

It is fortunate that these politicians had the ability to choose this effective therapy. Unfortunately many patients in this country are restricted from these proven treatments.  I hope these men can use their positions to advocate for the universal access to these life-saving therapies… and that we will stop seeing these procedures referred to as “last ditch treatments” or “drastic measures”.



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