Feb 17, 2022 Are You a Candidate for Weight Loss Surgery?

Image of Person Holding Measuring Tape Around Stomach

Many people who could benefit from bariatric surgery don’t consider it because of widespread misconceptions.

Naveen Ballem, MD
Naveen Ballem, MD

About 30 percent of U.S. adults qualify as obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bariatric (weight loss) surgery, which involves modifying the stomach to restrict the amount of food it can hold, could provide health benefits for many of those people—including reduction of medication, improvement of diabetes, a cure for obstructive sleep apnea and more.

Nonetheless, people who are candidates for the surgery often don’t see it as an option because of widespread misconceptions, says Naveen Ballem, MD, Medical Director of Bariatric Surgery at Clara Maass Medical Center. Here are some of the most common:

MYTH #1: “You have to be several hundred pounds overweight to consider weight loss surgery.”

FACT: “People think that’s the case because of TV shows like My 600-lb Life,” says Dr. Ballem. “In fact, most of the patients I operate on are in the 250-to-300-pound range. They are surgery candidates because their obesity is causing other health conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and sleep apnea. After surgery, they see improvement in these conditions and can reduce or eliminate multiple medications.”

MYTH #2: “Weight loss surgery is risky.”

FACT: The risk of fatality during bariatric surgery is just 0.1 percent, Dr. Ballem says—lower than the risks of many common surgeries.

MYTH #3: “Weight loss surgery is for people who don’t want to diet and exercise.”

FACT: “Obesity is not about being lazy or not having willpower,” Dr. Ballem says. “We are getting more and more data that shows that people who are morbidly obese have certain genetic profiles that lead to obesity.”

Besides, a healthy diet and exercise are a key part of the post-surgery success, he notes. “At Clara Maass, weight loss surgery is more than just surgery—it’s a comprehensive program, including diet modifications, physical activity and making support available post-surgery.”

MYTH #4: “Most people regain weight after bariatric surgery.”

FACT: “Research shows that bariatric surgery is the most effective means of achieving long-term weight loss,” says Dr. Ballem. “The standard for failure of the surgery has been defined as a case in which the patient regains 50 percent or more of their excess body weight post-surgery. However, most patients keep off the majority of the weight they lose.”

MYTH #5: “Weight loss surgery is a last resort.”

FACT: On the contrary, obese patients and their physicians should consider it sooner, Dr. Ballem says. “Morbid obesity is a disease that should be dealt with as early as possible,” he says. “If you wait until you are taking multiple medications for related health problems, you may not be eligible for surgery because of those problems. The earlier you do it, the better your potential outcome.”

To learn more about weight loss surgery at Clara Maass Medical Center, call 973-450-2393.