Can medical intervention alone ‘cure’ obesity?

Kirsty at RealSelf on 10 Aug 2010 at 10:45am

In the last few years we have been bombarded with information telling us that we are getting fatter. We are told that people are exercising less often, eating more convenience food--packed with high fat, high sugar and excessive calories--and we rely more on cars to take us short, walkable distances.

An article recently published in the Wall Street Journal ("Fat New World: Technology spawned the obesity plague") suggests that if we treat obesity as a disease, then medical intervention--such as bariatric surgery or obesity drugs--can be looked upon as a cure to weight management.

The authors of the article go on to suggest that, in general, people are becoming less willing to change their lifestyles to incorporate healthy eating and exercise. This, in turn, is costing an already-stretched economy by contributing to more sick days, less production when at work, and rising, obesity-related, medical costs.

This article does have an interesting point. Food is increasingly seen as an addiction and obesity the result; perhaps treating it as a disease and introducing bariatric surgery or obesity drugs at an early stage will prevent spiralling medical costs later.

One thing the article fails to mention is that medical intervention alone cannot cure obesity. Bariatric surgery is becoming an increasingly popular way of losing a large volume of weight in a relatively short period of time. However, medical intervention must be complemented by a weight management program.

As well as having a gastric bypass or gastric band, you must also change your lifestyle, eating habits and exercise routines. "It is important in the inmediate post -operative period to develop a good game plan and establish healthy eating habits that will carry you for the rest of your life," says Dr. Ricardo M. Bonnor, a Houston bariatric surgeon.

There have been numerous questions from the RealSelf community asking why there is no weight loss after having bariatric surgery. The answer from doctors, almost always, is that a healthy eating plan isn’t being adhered to.

This is backed up by the experience of RealSelf's bariatric community members:

"Early into my fifth year post op I was feeling exhausted, fat, grumpy and just 'icky,'" commented Kellybw3 in her gastric bypass review. "I realized I'd forgotten or ignored what I had to do to take care of my tummy, my whole body, and my mind. I started regularly taking my vitamins and slowly being aware of my food intake. I added regular exercise a few months later. By following the rules, eating healthy and exercising daily, it looks like I'm going to get below my lowest post-surgery weight. I've never felt healthier or stronger."

So, if the question is “Can medical intervention alone cure obesity?” then the answer is no. It can help, but it can’t cure. However, if the question is “Can medical intervention combined with a healthy eating plan and active lifestyle cure obesity?” then the answer is, for the most part, yes. There will always be exceptions to the rule, but if you eat well and remain active then bariatric surgery can have a major, positive impact on your life.