The number of weight-loss surgeries in England jumped more than tenfold from 2000 to 2007, a new study says.
Dr. Omar Faiz, a consultant surgeon at St. Mary's Hospital in London and colleagues monitored the number of weight-loss surgeries done in government hospitals from 2000 to 2008. Overall, they found 6,953 such operations were performed, including three different types of surgeries, all designed to shrink the size of the patient's stomach.
In 2000, there were 238 weight loss surgeries, but by 2007 there were 2,543 such operations. The study was paid for by Britain's National Institute of Health Research.
Faiz described the increase in surgeries as "exponential," but was unsure if it would continue.
"We don't know whether we've seen the summit of the peak, but the trend still looks to be going upwards," he said. He said there were not enough data to know how many obese people were awaiting the surgery in England, but said the number of people getting the surgery was likely only a small proportion of those who qualified for it and wanted it.
Faiz and colleagues found that the majority of patients who got the weight loss surgeries were women and were from poorer areas. Most patients were in their 40s. The surgeries also appeared to be safe; the risk of dying one year after the surgery was about 1 percent. The study was published Friday in the medical journal, BMJ.
Since 2002, when Britain's health watchdog recommended weight loss surgery for morbidly obese people, usually defined as those with a Body Mass Index above 40, there has been a sharp increase in the number of such procedures.
Some experts weren't surprised by the figures and said the obesity epidemic was likely to accelerate the demand for such surgeries in the future.
"It's very alarming that people have been allowed to get so fat without anyone intervening in time, said Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, a British advocacy group. He was not connected to the BMJ study.
"The fat are getting fatter and fatter and the gap between the healthy and the very unhealthy is growing," Fry said, warning that paying for more weight loss surgeries would be a huge burden for the British government. He said experts should focus on preventing obesity before surgery becomes necessary.
"People have the idea that they can eat and eat and then get (weight loss surgery) to solve the problem," he said. "That will be disastrous both for the individual and for the state."