The Medical Minute: A new take on weight loss

By Ann M. Rogers

It may be uncomfortable to think about after the holidays, but currently two-thirds of Americans are overweight and about five percent are actually clinically severely obese. New Year’s resolutions are great, but they probably won’t do much to solve this growing epidemic. Very few people are able to lose significant weight through diet and exercise, and even fewer are able to keep the weight off long term.

What does it mean to be clinically severely obese? In simple terms, it means being 100 percent above or 100 pounds above your ideal weight. A more accurate way to determine if you are obese is by calculating BMI or body mass index, which takes into account both your height and weight. A normal range of BMI is between 20 and 25. If your BMI is over 25 but less than 30, you are considered overweight. Between 30 and 35 qualifies as obese and over 35 is clinically severely obese if you have obesity-related health issues. You qualify as clinically severely obese if your BMI is greater than 40, even without any known health issues.

Patients are steadily turning to weight loss surgery to help them regain their health and well-being. The weight loss procedures most commonly performed in the United States include gastric bypass and the adjustable gastric band. However, a new procedure is now being offered that combines some of the best aspects of these two operations: vertical sleeve gastrectomy. In this operation, the stomach is shaped into a long, narrow tube that restricts how much a person is able to eat at any given time. The large part of the stomach is removed, decreasing hunger and prolonging satiety after a small meal.

Vertical sleeve gastrectomy can be performed laparoscopically, with tiny incisions and minimal postoperative pain. Patients are up and about the day after surgery. This operation doesn’t require re-routing of the intestines like gastric bypass, and doesn’t require needle adjustments like the adjustable gastric band. It’s reported to be very effective at helping improve or cure obesity-related medical problems such as diabetes, sleep apnea and hypertension.

Although vertical sleeve gastrectomy is considered a relatively new procedure, more and more insurance plans are agreeing to cover this operation for patients who qualify. Anyone interested in attending a free information session for weight loss surgery can find more information on our Web site at http://www.PennStateHershey.org/surgicalweightloss.

Most people stand to benefit from improved nutrition and exercise regimens. However, severely obese people should consult with a physician before implementing significant lifestyle changes such as radical diets and workout plans. For some, surgical weight loss options may be the first step towards healthier living.

Ann M. Rogers is director of the Penn State Hershey Surgical Weight Loss Program, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009