(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)
Two leading surgeons are calling on the federal government to pay for weight loss surgery for some patients.
It’s a growing problem, and they say the cost of the surgery would be offset by the savings in other health-related costs.
Brooke Boney reports.
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Australia is now the fourth fattest country in the world — but is falling behind when it comes to treatment.
Dr Michael Talbot is one of two surgeons calling for funding from the federal government.
“In Australia, we lead the world in so many public hospital statistics cancer treatments medications, give us really good statistics. We’re actually the only western country that doesn’t support weight loss surgeries for uninsured patients.”
Dr Talbot says it’s no longer about just obesity but about all of the other health conditions associated with it.
“The message here is not talking about obesity, but talking about medical conditions and sickness. So if you move away from talking about people’s weight to talk about the illnesses that they have, then it’s simply a discussion about treating illnesses”
Three diseases linked to obesity — heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease — account for two thirds of all deaths in Australia.
And one in six hospital dollars is spent on obesity.
The co-author of the article in the Medical Journal of Australia, Professor Michael Edye, says it will only get worse.
“It’s really bad now. Now is the time to act. The weight loss epidemic is probably 25 years old. It has not gone away.”
It could be an expensive exercise for government, with surgeries starting at $10,000-15,000.
But that is a small price to pay for some.
Andy Spalding had weight-loss surgery nearly 10 years ago, and he says it has changed his life.
“I just wanted to feel better about myself and lose weight, but had I known the many thing I would enjoy afterwards I would have had many reasons to have the surgery. It’s been amazing the things that I’ve never even imagined that I’d enjoy now through losing weight through surgery.”
Last year, 285 procedures — including gastric stapling and adjustments to gastric bands — were undertaken in public hospitals.
But those decisions are only made after all other weight loss strategies are exhausted.
Andy Spalding says state and federal governments should do more.
“I personally would like to see state and federal governments help subsidise the surgery for patients, but I still think there should be some sort of investment from the person having the surgery themselves.”
Obesity has now overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature death and illness.