“Ohartley in studionly 1-2% of people who could benefit from weight loss surgery are actually getting it done”

So says Dr. Gil Hartley, my radio guest this week on Healthy Matters.  Dr. Hartley is an internal medicine physician, like me, who specializes in the care of people who are very overweight.  We focused our conversation on bariatric surgery – which is the medical term for weight loss surgery.

Here is the Healthy Matters podcast page to listen to this show or any of our recent shows.

BMI checkerThe first step to knowing if weight loss surgery may be right for you is to calculate your own Body Mass Index, or BMI.  You just have to know your height and weight, and it takes less than a minute to do.  Find out your BMI by clicking the button —>

What does the BMI mean

Here are the categories of BMI:

  • <18.5       = Underweight
  • 18.5 – 25 = Healthy weight
  • 25 – 30    = Overweight
  • 30 – 40    = Obese
  • >40          = Severely obese

It may be emotionally hard to find out which category you fall into – and you’d be right to note that it is just a number.  But think of it as a starting place, and if your BMI is high, perhaps now is the time to take action.  Especially if your BMI is greater than 40 in which case  I really encourage you to see a weight loss surgery expert.  For people with diabetes, the BMI at which to consider surgery drops to 35.

Is weight loss surgery right for me?

As Dr. Hartley mentioned, weight loss surgery is the best option for many people who are excessively overweight – the people who are at risk for complications due to their weight – diabetes being the most prominent example but also including high blood pressure and obstructive sleep apnea.  I won’t get into all the details, as there are lots of good resources for people who are overweight or obese (for instance, check here for good info from the National Institutes of Health – a source you can trust).   But what struck me about my conversation with Dr. Hartley was when he said the resistance of people to getting weight loss surgery is still a real problem.  And he isn’t trying to peddle unnecessary surgeries on anyone.  He simply knows firsthand that surgery is the best solution for many people.

And don’t be too hard on yourself.  Being overweight is not a character flaw.  For most people, it is also not just a problem with overeating (although that is the problem for some).  Rather, obesity is a complex chronic condition with lots of causes and contributing factors.

I’ll close with a few more things I learned from Dr. Hartley today about weight loss surgery:

  • Weight loss surgery may be the most effective treatment for diabetic patients who are obese.  Some patients actually leave the hospital after the surgery without needing their diabetes medications anymore!
  • We used to think it did not matter when you did your surgery.  We told people to just think about it and do it whenever you are ready.  Doctors are reconsidering this due to more recent evidence that suggests that getting it done earlier leads to better longer-term health in patients with diabetes.  So waiting for years and years to do the surgery may not be the best idea after all.
  • The laparoscopic banding surgery, which showed great promise 10 years ago, is used much less today.  The two more common surgeries are gastric bypass (Roux-en-Y), and vertical sleeve gastrectomy.
  • You can drink liquids without problem after weight loss surgery.  One caller to the show was worried about being thirsty after surgery.  Not to worry, you can still drink liquids normally as they just pass through your system just like they always did before surgery.
  • Loose skin can be a problem for some after weight loss surgery (to the degree that cosmetic surgery is considered), but for many people the skin does remodel back to a less bothersome condition over time.

If you are in Minnesota and want to take action on your weight . . . here is information on Dr. Hartley and his team at the Hennepin Bariatric Center.

Thanks for joining me on the air, streaming online, and on MyHealthyMatters.org!