Weight Loss Surgery Rates Hit Plateau

Weight Loss surgery has proven to be a highly effective and safe tool in fighting morbid obesity, yet the number of people getting surgery has stalled in the past few years.

A brief history of the numbers:

  • Weight loss surgery experienced slow and steady growth since the first procedure was performed in 1954, followed by rapid growth in the first half of the 2000s, with the FDA approval of the Lap-Band.
  • In the year 2000, 36,700 weight loss surgeries were performed.
  • The number jumped to 47,200 procedures in 2001, a 29 percent increase.
  • In 2003, weight loss surgery saw an increase of a whopping 64 percent.
  • In 2006, bariatric surgery growth rates still increased, but at a significantly slower rate: an increase of only 4 percent was seen from 2005 to 2006.
  • In 2008, 220,000 surgeries were performed and the number remained the same in 2009. Numbers for following years are not yet available, but experts think that they are staying flat or even declining.This stall is in part because the recession from December 2007 to June 2009 left patients deferring or delaying many elective procedures.

Dr. Scott Cunneen, expert weight loss surgeon in Los Angeles told the AMA: “Patients are worried about their economic stability. They’re worried about paying rent and providing food for their families. Weight-loss surgery is elective. It’s a good investment for both the insurance company as well as the individual, but they have more immediate concerns.” Some of the other factors in the plateau include insurance coverage denials, and the public struggle of celebrity patients has shown that bariatric surgery is not a “magic solution” for weight loss and does require lifestyle changes. Additionally, media coverage of scandals such as the 1-800-GET-THIN campaign has affected the reputations of even those clinics that have outstanding records and commitments to quality and safety. In spite of the plateau, bariatric surgery practices remain busy, and a growing body of research is showing that surgery is beneficial for a range of reasons. For example, a recent pair of studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that weight loss surgery is superior for obese diabetic patients.  Weight loss surgery rates are expected to grow again as the economy improves.

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