You’ve heard the stats, but the numbers never fail to shock: Roughly one out of every three Americans is obese. Not overweight, but obese. That’s according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Obesity is an epidemic in the United States,” says Raul Rosenthal, MD, president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. And considering obesity’s close ties to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, the numbers are even more frightening.
Now the good news: For lots of Americans, weight loss (bariatric) surgery is a safe and effective way to drop weight, send diabetes packing, and otherwise dodge the dangers of severe obesity.
“The surgery requires participation and lifestyle changes on the patient’s part, but afterward most people say, ‘Look at me now!’ ” says Noel Williams, MD, director of the bariatric surgery program at the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
Here’s what you need to know about weight loss surgery.
1. It’s all about shrinking your stomach.
In basic terms, bariatric surgery reduces the size of your stomach in order to lower the amount of food your body can take in, Rosenthal says. “The surgery can also result in metabolic changes, including hormonal shifts that can lower appetite and help improve insulin sensitivity, which often leads to diabetes remission,” he explains. There are more than 200,000 bariatric surgeries performed each year, and having one drops your mortality risk by 40%, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
2. Not everyone’s a candidate.
While body mass index (BMI) can be a flawed measure of your weight and overall health, it’s still the first criteria a doctor will look at when determining if bariatric surgery is an option for you. Rosenthal says anyone with a BMI over 40—also termed “severe” obesity—should consider the surgery. He says those with a BMI between 35 and 40 are also likely candidates, and surgery may make sense for some people with BMIs ranging from 30 to 35.
“As physicians, our intent is always not to operate if we can help it,” he says. “But when lifestyle changes like diet and exercise fail, those people may be good candidates for surgery.”