Obesity and Your Health: Who’s a Candidate for Weight-Loss Surgery?

Clinical studies have confirmed that the pandemic has only intensified this country’s obesity epidemic.  Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. will be obese by 2030, according to recent projections published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Nearly a quarter will be severely obese.

Currently, about 40 percent of U.S. adults are considered obese, with about 20 percent considered severely obese. A BMI (body mass index) of 30 or higher is considered obese.  But to be a candidate for weight-loss surgery, a BMI is generally 35 or higher. Obesity is a serious disease that affects a person’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. It puts an individual at a much higher risk of serious chronic diseases and some cancers.

Alfredo Rios, 54, weighed 310 pounds before starting a journey that would transform his life. Four years ago, he was a patient of the Baptist Health Weight-Loss Surgery Program.

“I could not walk two blocks without experiencing heavy breathing,” recalls Mr. Rios. “The limitation was very important to reduce because I just had no physical mobility. Everything in my body hurt. Carrying that extra weight is difficult on your feet. It’s difficult on your knees. It’s difficult on your entire body and not being able to sleep because of the sleep apnea.”

Bariatric surgery reduces the size of a person’s stomach and limits the number of calories that can be absorbed. When accompanied by a balanced diet and exercise, the results can be life-changing. Mr. Rios was part of a panel of a recent Resource LIVE, Weighing In on Bariatric Surgery, hosted by Olga Villaverde, Baptist Health spokesperson.

The two experts on the panel were: Marlon Pastrana, M.D., Baptist Health Weight-Loss Program Surgeon; and Anaisys Ballesteros, D.O., family medicine physician, Baptist Health Primary Care.

“Alfredo is not alone,” said Ms. Villaverde. “The obesity epidemic continues to be a prevalent issue in the United States. With more than 40 percent of Americans weighing in at dangerous health standards, this can affect anyone and unfortunately can lead to many serious issues later on in life.”

Even though many believe it’s a shortcut to weight loss, bariatric surgery is actually not for everyone, she adds. And it’s so important to know all your options.

Marlon Pastrana, M.D., surgeon with Baptist Health Weight-Loss Program.

“Weight-loss surgery is not a journey for everyone,” said Dr. Pastrana. “And it is not the easy way out. There are diets that patients can go through. But a lot of patients regain their weight. We do have medications for patients that don’t qualify for weight loss surgery. There are some medications that mainly suppress their appetites … so patients feel full, faster, and patients can achieve some weight loss with these nonsurgical treatments.”

Here are some question-and-answer excerpts from the Resource LIVE. You can access the full program here.

Ms. Villaverde: “Can you tell us about the effects that obesity can have on a person’s health?”

Dr. Ballesteros:
“Basically, we know that obesity is mostly associated with heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and sleep apnea. If you have any of these medical conditions and you do meet the criteria for obesity based on the BMI, then you may be a candidate for bariatric surgery. And that’s what we see the most in the office.

Anaisys Ballesteros, D.O., family medicine physician, Baptist Health Primary Care.

“Having said that, there are additional conditions that also are associated with obesity, including fatty liver, osteoarthritis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome — in addition to even some cancers. So, obesity really can lead to a lot of medical problems and complications.”

Ms. Villaverde: “What are the criteria for going ahead with weight-loss surgery?”

Dr. Pastrana:

“Over the years, we have learned that morbid obesity can be effectively treated with surgery. In general, patients that qualify for weight loss surgery, should have a body mass index, or BMI, of 35 or above with at least one significant medical problem, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol. However, if a patient has a BMI above 40, we know that they will develop all these medical problems, and they will definitely benefit from surgery. Even if a patient does not have any diagnosed medical problem, and if the BMI is about 40, they will qualify for the surgery — because we know those patients are going to benefit the most.”

Ms. Villaverde:  “Alfredo, if you don’t mind, I’m looking at those pictures (before weight-loss surgery) and it’s almost like looking at another person to be honest with you. Did you try diets? Did you try exercise? Did you try everything?”

Mr. Rios:
“I tried anything and everything … it is extremely difficult for anyone that has gone through what I went through, in terms of managing your weight. Everybody says that it can be done. Obviously, there are some people that can do it. For me, it was very difficult to put together a plan that worked. My main concern was portion control. And, obviously, the selections that I made, in terms of eating … One thing that I always say to myself every morning when I get up is: ‘I’m not going back.’ And every time I don’t want to go out and start doing exercises —   something that I never did in the past, or didn’t do as often as I should — I tell myself that I don’t want to go back.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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