While driving in Southern California last week, I could not help but notice scads of billboards promoting lap band surgery as a remedy for overweight. The subliminal message on these billboards was that lap-band surgery was acceptable as a method of attaining the slim body image many have been hopelessly striving to achieve. The billboards seemed absurd, and yet, in Southern California, land of surgically altered living Barbie Dolls and GI Joes, they were almost surreally normal.
An advisory panel presented to the F.D.A. recently supporting the use of gastric lap band surgery for people who are just slightly obese. Until now, these devices have only been approved for use by dangerously obese adults with life-threatening health concerns. The F.D.A.’s guidelines will determine which individuals may be covered by health insurance for this procedure.
I do personally know two women who were not qualified for the surgery under the F.D.A. guidelines but were willing to pay for their surgery out of pocket and easily managed to find a physician ready to perform the surgeries even though there were no apparent health risks in either woman. In both cases, the surgery was done purely for aesthetic purposes, as one might undergo a facelift. Lowering the current F.D.A. standards would, in effect, promote lap band surgery as an aesthetic procedure that is covered by health insurance.
The most troubling aspects of the proposed F.D.A. approval of slackening the guidelines on this procedure are that there have been many serious side effects reported in lap band surgery patients and no long-term studies that might reveal more than the short-term risks of undergoing the surgery. In an Op-Ed article in the N.Y. Times this past week, Diana Zuckerman articulated these concerns rather eloquently. She points out that 5% of patients “required additional surgery one to nine months after getting their lap bands, and in most cases this meant permanent removal.” Zuckerman also sites a three- year study of very obese patients finding that “one in four had their lap bands removed and not replaced.” Common side effects include “vomiting, difficulty swallowing, pain and gastrointestinal reflux.”
I had a conversation with a young woman who was the head of a lap band surgery support group. She reported not only the above side effects but also that eating was never the same after surgery. Only very minute amounts of food can be consumed at any one time. Some patients manage to stretch their smaller stomachs over time and regain weight. And the surgery does not eliminate the need to be ever vigilant about one’s diet. She said if she had fully realized what life would be like after the surgery, she never would have undergone the procedure.
Since lap band surgery is not a substitute for learning healthy eating habits, why not just learn the healthy eating habits and lose weight slowly but steadily? Why risk a serious surgical procedure unless the risk of not having the surgery is greater? Lowering the bar on lap band surgeries to include people who are mildly obese and without serious health problems invites more of us to consider vanity as more important than putting our lives at risk. Not to mention the cost of the surgeries being covered by health insurance companies when health risk is not an apparent motive for the increase in these procedures.
Filed under: Lap Band surgery, Weight Management | Tagged: Diet, Eating Habits, FDA, Healthy Eating, Healthy Habits, Obesity, Overweight, Weight Loss | Leave a Comment »