We have heard it countless times…
Over two-thirds of the population is currently overweight, and a quarter obese – a figure that I’ve seen rise hugely over the years. During my 15 years as a weight-loss surgeon, I saw the results of this every day. I have spoken to and operated on all kinds of people who come in with the hope that weight-loss surgery will drastically improve their health and wellbeing. And whilst it certainly can change people’s lives for the better, choosing to have weight-loss surgery is a major decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
One of the biggest effects of our expanding waistlines, is the risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Type-2 diabetes is the commonest type of diabetes and is a condition in which the body becomes resistant to the normal effects of the hormone insulin. This in turn affects our blood-sugar levels and can eventually have some pretty dire effects on our internal organs. The problem is that, with so many of us now obese, the number of people developing type-2 diabetes as a result is increasing dramatically. In fact, in the UK, 1/3 of us are reported to have pre-diabetes – and I don’t see this figure shrinking any time soon!
But studies have found that weight-loss or bariatric surgery can reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes by around 80% – pretty impressive data. On the one hand, I agree that these results are a positive step forward in the fight against type-2 diabetes. After all, we spend around £480 million pounds a year managing diabetes attributable to obesity. On the other hand, the risk of developing diabetes could be significantly reduced if we were able to lose weight ourselves…which is a far cheaper and less risky option than surgery.
Previous top figures in the NHS have outlined the importance of tackling our obesity crisis at the grass-roots level, and to me, this is vital to avoid the increasing health and financial costs of diabetes. Obviously, for some, it may be too late – a lifetime of consuming sugar and fat-laden foods cannot easily be undone and surgery may be the right approach. But for many of us, small changes in our lives can help prevent the onset of diabetes. Make healthy switches in your diet, take up some form of exercise, and take small steps to create a healthy, active lifestyle for you and your family. Your health (and waistlines!) will benefit.
So, is weight-loss surgery the answer to our diabetes epidemic? No. It is a very valuable and cost-effective treatment for obesity-related diseases and can prevent the onset of diabetes as well as treat it. But as a tool for tackling this widespread epidemic of diabetes, it fails on several counts. It is obviously more expensive and carries higher risks than changing our behavior. We don’t have the infrastructure to use surgery as a tool for prevention. What’s more, it does nothing to change the way society accepts the changing food environment that contributes to our obesity and diabetes epidemic. Let’s look at reducing the sugar and fat in our foods, cut the constant temptations that are put in our way by supermarkets and food manufacturers, ban the advertising of junk foods (especially to our kids) and instead promote a return to real food.
It will help prevent diabetes and give you numerous other health benefits too!