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Covid-19 and weight loss surgery: debunking the myths


Around 27% of adults in the UK are clinically obese, defined as having a BMI over 30. While obesity is linked to various health problems, including heart and circulatory diseases, it also appears that being overweight or obese increases your risk of dying from Covid-19. The more overweight you are, the greater your risk, according to official statistics. While research is still being conducted on exactly why this is the case, there can be no doubt about the facts. A study published in April 2020 examining 16,749 UK patients in hospital with Covid-19 found that obesity was linked to a higher risk of dying (around a 37% increase in risk of death). That study took into account factors such as age, sex and other health issues.

These studies have brought into sharper focus issues around obesity and weight loss. There are still many misconceptions around bariatric procedures that might prevent some people from having the help they need. Countless studies have proven that bariatric surgery can be a life-saving treatment for many, and in some cases, the only one possible where diet, exercise and medication have failed. Despite this, public opinion is still generally split on the issue and reluctant to see weight loss surgery as a common treatment for obesity. This makes it even more important to establish the facts.

Mr Georgios Vasilikostas, Consultant Bariatric Surgeon at Parkside Private Hospital, debunks 5 common myths around the risks and benefits of weight loss procedures.

Myth 1: “I can die during a bariatric surgery procedure”

Death is a risk that can be associated with any surgical procedure. Depending on the type of surgery, pathologies and comorbidities, the risk can vary significantly. However, death for bariatric surgery patients is actually very rare and often associated with severe cardiovascular problems. In fact, the risk of death during and after weight loss procedures has been estimated to be less than 0.2% worldwide and 0.07% in England.

Myth 2: “I can obtain the same weight loss results with diet and exercise”

Many studies have shown that bariatric surgery results are more consistent in the long term, compared to diet and exercise. Of course, diet and exercise combined are one of the most common ways to lose weight – and acquiring or maintaining a healthy lifestyle even after surgery is fundamental.

Having said this, diet and exercise can often be temporary options for weight loss, and unlikely to offer the long-term results and benefits that surgical treatments can provide.
Obesity is a condition that depends on many factors, such as lifestyle, genetics, environmental, pathologies or medications and if not treated appropriately, can lead to many conditions, including diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Sometimes bariatric surgery is the only viable option, especially when non-surgical methods fail repeatedly.

Myth 3: “I will suffer from malnutrition after bariatric surgery”

Iron and vitamin deficiencies are risks associated with weight loss surgery, in particular with gastric bypass and gastric sleeve procedures. After surgery, multivitamins, iron and calcium supplement intake is needed for life. However, if vitamin and mineral levels are monitored and managed adequately, together with a balanced diet regime, your body will have all the elements it needs to provide energy and function correctly. In fact, it is very unlikely that a patient will become underweight following weight loss surgery.

Myth 4: “I will have mental health problems after surgery”

Emotional changes are normal, and weight loss surgery can have a great impact on many aspects of your life. Some patients who seek surgical treatment might suffer from depression and binge eating disorder. Studies show that weight loss journeys might lead to improved mood and better mental wellbeing after surgery. Psychological support is key both prior and after surgery.

Myth 5: “Bariatric surgery is the key to happiness”

Weight loss can improve self-esteem and confidence, but it is not an easy way out. Building new attitudes and healthy habits is part of the process. You might think that weight loss happens straight away after your operation, but bariatric surgery is a tool to make the required diet and lifestyle changes less challenging to be achieved and maintained over time.

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