Weight-loss surgery ballooning: report

The number of Australians going under the surgeon’s knife in an attempt to lose weight has increased by more than 3000 per cent in the decade to 2008, a report examining the phenomenon reveals.

There were just 535 procedures performed in 1998, but 10 years later the number of people in hospital for weight-loss surgery had jumped to 17,000 at a cost of $108 million.

The report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Weight Loss Surgery in Australia, states that the number of operations increased by an average 54 per cent each year over the decade.

During the same period, the number of obese Australians increased by six percentage points, from 18.7 per cent of the population in 1995 to 24.8 per cent in 2008.

“While there’s been some increase in the levels of people who are obese it’s nowhere near the same sort of increase we’ve seen in surgery,” the institute’s Jenny Hargreaves told AAP on Thursday.

“A greater proportion of people who are overweight or obese are having surgery than in the past.”

The AIHW report notes that previous studies had explained the spike by pointing to increased publicity around weight-loss surgery, greater acceptance of lap-banding, an increase in the number of practising surgeons and the effectiveness of the procedures.

Women are far more likely to undergo weight-loss surgery than men. In 2008, 80 per cent of procedures were performed on women.

The females going under the surgeon’s knife also tend to be younger than their male counterparts.

Ms Hargreaves says the fact that more women are having surgery is “disproportionate” because more men are actually obese.

According to the 2007-08 National Health Survey, 68 per cent of men are overweight or obese while for women the figure is 55 per cent.

The estimated cost of hospital care for weight-loss procedures in 2008 was $12.5 million in the public sector and $96 million in the private sector.

More than 90 per cent of admissions were in private hospitals.

The most common surgery was laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding, which accounted for more than 72 per cent of admissions.

The Royal Australasian College for Physicians this year banned its members from offering weight-loss surgery to those aged under 15.

Older obese teenagers can now only be considered for a reversible lap-band.

The college said surgical procedures were not a quick fix for obesity and doctors should refuse to provide such treatment for younger teenagers.