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Weight Loss Surgery Makes Life Better for Obese

Gastric Bypass Boosts Mental, Physical Health -- but Complications Common

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Yet Santry's data reveal a major disparity. Obesity is most common in people with low incomes. Yet weight loss surgery is most common among higher-income people.

"There is still the widespread perception that instead of a disease, obesity is just people's misbehavior and they are not deserving of treatment," Wolfe says. "An unresolved question is to what extent does cost justify withholding access to a treatment. If it is the best treatment for a medical condition, the cost is a problem -- but we cannot deny patients just because it is expensive to give them the proper treatment for their condition. How to sort that out in the long term is a question."

Zingmond says it's a question we'll have to answer in a hurry. He notes that in California alone, as many as a million people qualify for weight loss surgery.

"Multiply by 10 or 15 for the whole country," he says. "We need, as a society, to address this rationally. Can we send everyone who is overweight to surgery? That is the debate we are having now. Each state Medicare program is making these decisions. California does allow it -- and the wait list is long."

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