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Health Matters 2/5: Bariatric Surgery Can Help Jumpstart Weight Loss

By Lisa Dobruskin, MD, FACS

More than 70% of American adults are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And informal surveys suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem, as many people are eating more and exercising less.

Moreover, as the CDC notes, adults with excess weight are at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Maintaining a healthy weight is critical to your overall health. Being overweight can contribute to other serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer. It can also negatively impact your body image and self-esteem.

While diet and exercise are important components of any weight loss plan, in many cases the most effective treatment for obesity is bariatric surgery.

At the Center for Bariatric Surgery & Metabolic Medicine at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center (PMC), a team of weight loss specialists helps patients find a strategy that meets their own unique needs, including surgical options such as gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy.

Safe and Effective

Thousands of individuals — men, women and teens — have regained their health and lives after having bariatric surgery.

In fact, more than 250,000 bariatric procedures are performed each year, according to the American Society for Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery.

Proven safe and effective, bariatric surgery can help individuals who are typically 100 pounds or more overweight eliminate or reduce the damaging health effects of conditions related to obesity, including diabetes, high blood pressure and infertility.

Bariatric surgery can help people lose up to 80% of their excess weight in the first two years following the procedure. The surgery helps restore physical health, and it can also help renew people’s confidence in how they look.

According to U.S. News & World Report statistics, total weight loss depends on several factors, including type of surgery.

To qualify for bariatric surgery, a patient must have a body mass index (BMI) of above 40 or a BMI of 35 to 39.9 coupled with a disease caused by obesity.

Surgical Options

Two of the most common types of procedures are sleeve gastrectomy and gastric bypass.

Sleeve gastrectomy is a procedure in which about 75% of the stomach is removed, leaving 25% of the original capacity. The remaining stomach resembles a narrow tube or sleeve, hence the name. Additionally, gastric sleeve eliminates the portion of the stomach that produces a hormone that stimulates hunger, further supporting weight loss efforts. While still a relatively new procedure, data suggest that the procedure results in weight loss comparable to gastric bypass at two years.

Gastric bypass surgery separates the stomach into two unequal compartments with less than 20% of the stomach remaining usable for food consumption. The food empties from this tiny stomach pouch into the upper intestine. The small intestine is also rearranged, limiting absorption of food. In addition to restricting the amount of food you can eat, gastric bypass also limits the amount of calories that are absorbed. Gastric bypass often allows patients to lose 65-70% of their excess weight within one year.

It is important to note that bariatric surgery is a major surgery, and as with all major surgeries, there are some risks. The operation requires general anesthesia and typically one day of hospitalization. Most patients require one to two weeks of physical recovery.

Life After Bariatric Surgery

Weight loss is a journey, and while bariatric surgery is an effective treatment for obesity — and the complications that often come with it — it is one step in the process.

Research indicates that long-term success depends on lifestyle changes as well as ongoing follow up and support.

After weight loss surgery, your diet will require permanent changes, both in how much food you eat and in what foods you choose. Because food portions are reduced, it is even more important that your food be nutritious and provide the minerals and vitamins necessary to promote good health.

Additionally, to make your weight loss journey a lifelong success, it is important to get into the routine of doing some sort of physical activity every day. Exercise provides many health benefits and helps to maximize your weight loss. Regular activity not only burns calories, it also helps to preserve muscle tissue during rapid weight loss.

Choose a variety of exercises that you enjoy, such as walking, bicycling, light jogging, swimming, or aerobics. Finding activities that you look forward to doing can help exercise become habit, rather than a chore.

Jumpstart Your Weight Loss

While bariatric surgery is not a quick fix, it is an effective treatment for obesity and a proven tool to jumpstart your weight loss and provide you the leverage you need to build lifelong healthy habits.

The Center for Bariatric Surgery & Metabolic Medicine at PMC offers bariatric surgery using minimally invasive techniques, including robotic-assisted surgery, enabling patients to recover faster and reducing pain and scarring. In addition, the center, which is accredited by the Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Quality Improvement Program, offers ongoing support to help ensure long-term success after weight-loss surgery.

Because bariatric surgery is considered medically necessary, insurance companies will often cover it.

To learn more about the Center for Bariatric Surgery & Metabolic Medicine and discover a weight loss strategy that is right for you, call 609-785-5870 or visit www.princetonhcs.org/weightloss.

Lisa Dobruskin, MD, FACS, is a board certified surgeon specializing in bariatric surgery and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. She is the medical director of the Center for Bariatric Surgery & Metabolic Medicine at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center.

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