Bariatric surgery still labeled a ‘weight loss shortcut’ despite health benefits

ORLANDO, Fla. — Obesity rates continue to rise in the United States, with over two in five American adults currently classifying as obese. Despite bariatric surgery being a valid and effective weight loss option, a new national survey from Orlando Health suggests many people are actively avoiding the procedure. The main reason is the social stigma associated with going under the knife “just” to lose weight. In reality, researchers and doctors argue, these surgeries represent actionable avenues for many Americans to address their health issues and live happier, more active lives.
“Treatment plans for obesity are tailored to each individual patient based on things like body mass index and existing medical conditions and may include medication, lifestyle changes, counseling and bariatric surgery,” says Andre Teixeira, MD, medical director and bariatric surgeon at Orlando Health Weight Loss and Bariatric Surgery Institute, in a media release.
“By taking this personalized approach, we are extremely successful in reversing health issues caused by obesity, from diabetes to heart disease. But if someone’s decision is affected by those who think they don’t need surgery or that make them feel like a failure if they have surgery, that greatly diminishes their chances of losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle long term.”
Put together by Ipsos, the survey reveals that 79 percent of Americans consider weight loss surgery a “last resort,” while another 60 percent agree with the sentiment that bariatric surgery is a shortcut to a slimmer physique. Dr. Teixeira stresses such beliefs couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Bariatric surgery is by no means an easy way out. If you have the courage to ask for help and commit to doing the hard work of changing your diet and improving your life, you’re a champion in my book.” Dr. Teixeira adds. “Surgery is simply a tool to jumpstart that change. After surgery, it is up to the patient to learn how to eat well, implement exercise into their routine and shift their mindset to maintain their health for the rest of their lives.”
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Guidelines published by both the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) and the International Federation for the Surgery of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders (IFSO) were both recently updated for the first time since 1991 to expand access to bariatric surgery. Why? Today, these surgeries are less invasive and safer than ever thanks to recent breakthroughs in laparoscopic and robotic surgery techniques. Still, despite these great advancements, a mere one percent of those who clinically qualify for the surgeries actually opt to do so.
On a related note, 61 percent of survey respondents said they personally believe exercise and diet should be enough to lose weight.
“Because of the stigma around obesity and bariatric surgery, so many of my patients feel defeated if they can’t lose weight on their own,” says Muhammad Ghanem, MD, a bariatric surgeon at Orlando Health Weight Loss and Bariatric Surgery Institute. “But when I tell them obesity is a disease and that many of its causes are outside of their control, you can see their relief. They often even shed a tear because they’ve struggled with their weight all their lives and finally have some validation.”
Maritza Cruz Rivera, 64, lived with pain and fatigue for years before finally hitting a breaking point during a routine visit with her primary care doctor.
“When they weighed me before my appointment, I looked at the scale and started to cry. There it was: 227,” Cruz Rivera recalls. “Something triggered in me in that moment to finally do something about my weight and get some help.”
After learning that bariatric surgery would be a good option for her, Maritza consulted with her friends and family. While many of her loved ones supported her decision to undergo surgery, she also heard quite a few misconceptions. She advises anyone else considering bariatric surgery to get the facts directly from their doctor when making a decision.
Following her surgery, Cruz Rivera changed her relationship with food and began prepping healthy salads and soups. Now, a full year later, her weight is much healthier and she is living the life she’s always wanted to live; riding her bicycle with her grandchildren, going for long walks in her neighborhood, and even one of her favorites activities: dancing.
“I haven’t been able to dance like this in 20 years. I didn’t go into this to look like Barbie, I just wanted to live a healthy life with my family, and now I can do that,” Cruz Rivera explains. “For anyone struggling with obesity who feels depressed or stuck like I did, don’t bury yourself in that dark hole. Understand and know that there’s always a solution.”
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