According to new figures published by the National Bariatric Surgery Register (NBSR), approximately 550 people under 25 have undergone weight loss surgery in the UK in the last three years of which nearly 40% of them were classified as super-obese. These figures suggest that current strategies to prevent weight gain in young people are failing and do not go far enough to tackle the problem of obesity, particularly in young people.
The NBSR study - which includes information on more than 18,000 weight-loss operations in 137 UK hospitals between 2010 and 2013 - suggests that more patients are having weight loss surgery and, on average, they are getting more obese and more ill by the time of surgery. This could have a detrimental impact not only on patients’ lives but also on the NHS in terms of costs. A leading bariatric surgeon said that severe obesity threatens to bankrupt the NHS.
Weight loss surgery can help people with a range of long term health issues and can drastically reduce overall costs to the NHS over the longer term. The new research has found that bariatric surgery not only achieves weight loss but can also prevent associated medical complications, improve quality of life, and cut NHS costs. However, weight loss surgery remains controversial with some critics saying that the medical costs of up to £5,000 should not be spent on a condition that some consider to be self-inflicted.
Evidence that surgery could offer “significant financial savings” to the health service is supported by the report’s findings that more than 65% of obese patients with type II diabetes showed no sign of the condition two years after weight loss surgery, saving the NHS the cost of diabetes treatment. For this reason, the NHS is due to increase the number of people eligible for such operations and draft guidelines drawn up in July 2014 by NICE propose to double the number of those eligible for surgery from 900,000 to 1.8 million.
Bruce Keogh, the NHS England’s medical director said: “Obesity and bariatric surgery are rapidly rising up the NHS agenda as a consequence of social and lifestyle choices. As in all branches of medicine, prevention is better than cure, but this report clearly demonstrates that, when required, bariatric surgery is effective and safe.”
Amy Milner, an associate in Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team, says: “While there is now less stigma attached to bariatric surgery and those who have it, it is worrying that there are so many under-25s for whom weight loss surgery is the only option to reduce their obesity. Young people undergoing weight loss surgery can be hugely affected if the procedure does not have the desired outcome. Weight loss surgery should be a last resort after other non-invasive methods of weight loss have been tried as there can be life-changing risks to the surgery if something goes wrong. Our biggest concern is that young people opt for weight loss surgery privately without enough counselling and understanding of what is involved.”
To read more about divided opinion on whether or not bariatric surgery is cosmetic in nature, please click here.