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Weighing In On Obesity

Weighing In On ObesityWhile the popular new surgery may prove effective in fighting obesity, Tufts doctors say it won’t solve the nation’s weight crisis alone. Boston.

Boston [01.27.03] Propelled by celebrity patients and dramatic results, gastric bypass surgery has rapidly become a national phenomenon. The procedure - in which doctors surgically reduce the stomach to fraction of its natural size - has proven successful at helping some of the nation's six million people classified as morbidly obese. But doctors at Tufts say, the surgery, on its own, can't solve the nation's obesity epidemic.

"At Tufts-New England Medical Center (T-NEMC), which has one of the largest programs in the country, gastric bypass surgery is now third after transplants and open-heart surgery in profitability among the most common surgeries," reported The Boston Globe.

Some attribute the growing popularity of the surgery to the dramatic weight loss achieved by celebrities including national broadcaster Al Roker and singer Carnie Wilson, who publicly announced that they received the treatment. But the procedure is hardly a cosmetic measure.

"In 1991, the National Institutes of Health determined that patients be a minimum of about 100 pounds above their ideal body weight before they qualify for obesity surgery of any kind," Tufts' Dr. Michael Tarnoff told Connie Chung on CNN's Connie Chung Tonight.

A specialist on morbid obesity at Tufts-NEMC, Tarnoff said the surgery - which is so popular that patients have been known to wait more than a year to receive it in some parts of the country - is a byproduct of a major health crisis.

"Obesity is growing at epidemic proportions and probably is one of the No. 1 health issues facing the country and really the world," Tarnoff told Chung.

The reasons for the epidemic, Tarnoff told CNN, are numerous.

"Clearly, there are genetic components that occur in select patients," said Tarnoff - an associate professor of surgery at Tufts School of Medicine. "There are environmental factors, if you just look around, the fast-food industry marketing, the fact that, as you go through your neighborhood grocery store, it's more cost-effective to eat unhealthy food than to eat healthy."

Another Tufts physician, Dr. Scott Shikora, agreed.

In an interview with Paula Zann on CNN's American Morning, the Tufts expert said a number of factors are responsible for the increase in obesity rates.

"Its multi-factorial," said Shikora, an associate professor at Tufts School of Medicine. "It's fast food, it's Internet, it's cable television where you have satellites and hundreds of channels to watch, it's lack of physical activity and the more sedentary lifestyle that we live."

While celebrity success stories have raised the visibility of gastric bypass surgery, Tarnoff said the procedure's increased popularity reflects a growing awareness about the health risks associated with obesity.

"[Celebrities getting the surgery has] done a lot to increase public awareness and clearly has raised the demand," said the Tufts doctor. "But probably equally important is the fact that not only has the health community embraced this, but the public has begun to realize the risks associated with obesity, both in terms of poor quality of life, as well as poor health and even an early death really outweigh any of the risks associated with surgery, although those risks are also significant."

The Tufts doctor said that the surgery is relatively safe, but is in no way meant to substitute for a healthful lifestyle.

"This is clearly not the easy way out," Tarnoff told CNN. "And that's a very common criticism that my parents receive. This requires lifestyle change. It's far from being as simple as showing up and having an operation."

The Tufts expert told Chung that without effort on the part of the patient, even the most innovative procedures would be ineffective.

"Without proper control over diet and behavioral issues, de-emphasizing the importance of food in one's daily existence, the best technical operation in the world is doomed to fail," said the Tufts doctor.

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