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In May, a study investigated the cost-effectiveness of gastric banding surgery, and concluded that the cost of obesity to the public health system was greater than the cost of lap banding.
And in 2010, a study by the University of Queensland and Deakin University found the cost-benefit of bariatric surgery to Australia was equivalent to the cost-benefit of quitting smoking.
Currently, more than 60 per cent of adults are overweight or obese – but among them, the number of morbidly obese is rapidly growing. Over a 10 year period, Deakin University followed more than a thousand women and found that the rate of morbid obesity increased almost 70 per cent.
And according to a 2010 study, the annual total cost of obesity in Australia was $56.6 billion per year, which makes it financially convenient for the government to encourage gastric banding surgery.
Monash University professor Paul O’Brien specialises in obesity research, and says Australia as a nation would be better off if more people turned to gastric banding.
“These results show that when you have a significant problem with obesity, a long-term solution is available,” Professor O’Brien says.
“Gastric banding is a highly cost-effective health care measure. We are working hard to improve access.”
When The Conversation spoke with the Australian National University’s Dr Rosemary Korda, she also encouraged greater government subsidies for lap banding. Currently, Medicare only covers some of the costs of the essential surgery.
“For many people, simple exercise and diet changes do not result in a sustained weight loss, often despite years of trying,” she told The Conversation.
“There is clear evidence that it is very effective in treating people with severe obesity — not only does it result in substantial weight loss, it leads to improvements in obesity-related health conditions such as diabetes and joint disease.”
A US government-funded study released last month extended the recommendation of bariatric surgery to those with a BMI of 35 or more.
“Bariatric surgery is often used to promote weight loss and manage obesity-related comorbidities [co-existing illnesses] in morbidly obese patients (body mass index [BMI; 35 or greater]),” the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association said.
“In this population, procedures such as laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding and Roux-en-Y gastric bypass have resulted in better glucose control and more weight loss at 1 or 2 years than nonsurgical therapy.”