Rebrand for 'bariatric surgery' urged to boost fight against obesity


Dropping the term "bariatric surgery" may lead to a rise in the number of operations carried out on obese people, experts have suggested.

A new analysis of surgery to help obese patients in the UK concluded that the number of people getting bariatric surgery was falling despite rising rates of obesity and diabetes.

A nurse tries on a bariatric patient simulation suit used for training (Peter Hvizdak/AP/PA)
A nurse tries on a bariatric patient simulation suit used for training (Peter Hvizdak/AP/PA)

The authors warned that as the obesity epidemic "worsens" the availability of surgery, "the most successful treatment", was limited.

Weight loss surgery, also known as bariatric surgery, reduces the size of the stomach with a gastric band or through removal of a portion of the stomach.

Diagram of a gastric band

The analysis, published in The BMJ, points out that the UK has the second highest rate of obesity in Europe, and ranks sixth internationally, with 25% of adults being obese and 62% being overweight. But it ranks 13th out of 17 EU countries for rates of bariatric surgery.

"Given the severity of the problem, it seems urgent to consider the potential barriers to surgery," they wrote.

There are a number of obstacles preventing people from getting the surgery.

A woman with a tape measure around her stomach (moodboard/Thinkstock/PA)

They suggest that one reason could be "prejudice", pointing out that a previous study had shown that changing the name of a bariatric clinic to "metabolic and diabetes surgery" increased the number of male patients.

"Adopting the phrase 'metabolic surgery' might enable society and patients to talk about it and begin to establish a culture change," they added.

Meanwhile, health commissioners have also restricted the number of bariatric operations they will fund, despite the evidence of cost saving, they said.

Bare feet on scales (Gareth Fuller/PA)
(Gareth Fuller/PA)

But the authors, led by bariatric consultant surgeon Richard Welbourn, pointed out: "Increasing surgery rates to 50, 000 a year, which is closer to the European average, could have major benefits for patient health and reduce direct healthcare expenditure within two years, in addition to cost savings in the future from reduced treatment costs."

They concluded: "A renewed active focus on this large group of patients could limit future costs of treating complications related to obesity and diabetes."