21 January 2010

Anti-obesity campaigns: surgery industry lobbying for WLS

The Royal College of Surgeons are lobbying to do more weight loss surgery. In a news release today they said that only 2% of eligible people are getting the surgery at the moment.

I'm intrigued by this figure. NHS data on obesity is very patchy, according to a speaker in the know at an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity meeting I attended last year, so what does 2% mean? 2% of all people who have a certain BMI? And, as usual, BMI is what determines health rather than any other factors? And that having a certain BMI means that you should have surgery?

I'm inclined to think that the RCS is trying to create a need for itself by lobbying for making weight loss surgery more available. It adds to the idea that surgery is inevitable for fat people, it's a benefit that is currently being denied, and it sanctions the manufactured need for intrusive surgical intervention on 'failed' fat bodies.

Part of the RCS report proposes that fat people in 'need' of surgery have to wait for it and thus get fatter is also peculiar. This notion fuels stereotypes about fat bodies being unbounded, getting fatter and fatter until we pop or smother the world.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports figures released by the Medical Defence Union, which insures and defends medical professionals. According to the MDU there has been an increase in compensation claims made by people who have had the surgery privately, including claims regarding a death.

It's hard to get a picture of the health costs of weight loss surgery in the UK because the NHS does not currently collect data, and private companies are unlikely to broadcast their failure rates.

As usual, critical perspectives are absent, and fat people are framed purely in terms of their desperation, helplessness, and compliant patient identities.


richie79 said...

I saw this on BBC Breakfast this morning and have been more than a little worked up about it all day (thanks a bunch Auntie). On the upside, Tam Fry ADMITTED on national TV that 'obesity' is 77% genetic, even referencing the 2008 UCL study (despite pooh-poohing it as 'making excuses' at the time!)

Sadly, and realising that if everyone responded in the logical fashion to these findings (ie accepting the place of fat people in the spectrum of natural human variation, and hence leaving us the hell alone) he'd be out of a job, he then went on to advocate WLS for all.

I also think the fact that the NHS has neglected (refused?) to keep records of WLS 'gone bad' speaks volumes about the way it is being pushed in this country as some sort of miracle that can be used to eliminate fat people, and with us all the social problems associated with us, at a stroke.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Beautifully put. Thank you.

Raine said...

I'm an American, so I'm not very familiar with how the NHS treats the surgery, but I will say the hype here seems to be wearing off, as people see those who've had the surgery re-gaining the weight and/or struggling with health problems from the surgery.

3-5 years ago, I know a lot of people who either had the surgery or were in the process of getting it. I was talked into going to one of the seminars on it myself, but decided against surgery because I felt it was too extreme in my case.

At least from what I see, it's a racket. Over half the people have gained back the weight they lose, or close to it, and even the surgeons here tell you to plan on gaining back 50% of the weight within 5 years.

Does the NHS cover any sort of wellness programs, to help people lose weight by seeing nutritionists or joining gyms/fitness clubs? Most insurance here does not, and I think if it did that would help a lot more people than pushing surgery as a quick fix.

Emerald said...

The experts have spoken: we now have a condition which, while it appears to be the default for millions of people, is so dangerous that it must be 'cured' by any means, no matter how risky, painful or ineffective. (No torture too bad if it 'cures' a heretic, eh?)

And on the other hand, we have hordes of people yelling that 'it's not fair, they should be paying for their own surgery rather than give them my NHS money so they can take the easy way out, just eat less and move more!!!' (They used to make heretics pay for their own firewood, too.)

There has to be a concerted effort, from outside the industry, to educate people on what WLS really means for the many people who go through it unsuccessfully and with hideous side-effects. And perhaps more than that, this emphasizes the need to carry on reiterating, loudly and frequently, the facts about the so-called health risks of obesity, because without that one underlying assumption the whole rickety house of cards would collapse.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Thanks Raine.

The NHS has some public-private partnership deals with commercial weight loss companies, as far as I know.