Doctors placed an elastic band around Pedersen's stomach just below the
esophagus to restrict how much food he could eat. Pedersen, who weighed close
to 300 pounds, began to lose weight almost immediately after the surgery.
Weight loss surgery is lifesaving for some people, taking off pounds that have hurt their health. But it's not right for everyone who has a lot of weight to lose.
If you're thinking about it, talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks, and whether it's a good idea for you.
"I was overjoyed," says Pedersen, 52, a lawyer in the San Francisco Bay
area. "I felt better. I looked better." What's more, very small portions of
food left him feeling full.
Then came trouble. Pedersen felt sharp abdominal pains and was rushed into
surgery. The band around his stomach had slipped, threatening to cut off
circulation. Had he waited much longer, he could have died. The band was safely
removed, but Pedersen began to regain weight quickly.
"I was devastated," he remembers. "It wasn't just a matter of wanting not to
be fat, though that certainly mattered to me. There are serious health problems
associated with being obese, which I was. And I already had many of them. I was
being treated for diabetes. My hips and my knees were deteriorating. My blood
pressure was too high. Being obese was almost certainly going to cut my life
short. And when you have two young kids, that's a hard thing to think
So, less than a year later Pedersen was back in the hospital, undergoing
another weight loss operation. This time, surgeons bypassed a large section of
his stomach and eliminated a stretch of his intestines, an operation called
gastric bypass. Three months after the second operation, Pedersen has lost more
than 45 pounds, enough that people stop him on the street to say how great he
Weight loss surgery: Drastic solutions to a drastic problem
Pedersen is hardly alone in resorting to drastic weight loss surgery to shed
pounds. More and more severely overweight and obese people are turning to
bariatric surgery, as these weight loss procedures are called. According to a
2005 report published in the Journal of the American Medical
Association, the number of bariatric operations increased sevenfold in just
five years-from 13,365 operations in 1998 to 102,177 in 2003. Survey results
also show a steep climb in the number of men opting for weight loss
Since surgical approaches to treat obesity were first undertaken in the
1970s, they've been controversial. If the problem is that obese people eat too
much, chopping away parts of their stomachs and intestines to get them to eat
less seems an extreme solution.
"But the fact is, dieting and other lifestyle interventions simply don't
work very well for most people," says Edward Livingston, MD, a surgeon at
Southwestern Medical School in Dallas and head of bariatric surgery for the
nation's Veterans Affairs system. "And for people who are obese, they almost
always fail." To keep prescribing treatments that have been shown repeatedly to
fail is simply bad medicine, he insists.
In truth, early attempts at weight loss surgery didn't work all that well
either. They carried serious risks of infection and death. But now, surgeons
have refined two basic approaches, experts say, gastric banding and gastric
bypass surgery, which offer better results with far fewer complications than