Surging Demand in Asia for Weight-Loss Surgery

KUALA LUMPUR ~ Rising obesity levels in Asia mean more people are choosing to go under the knife for weight-loss operations, medical experts say, but the region lacks enough qualified surgeons.

The president of the Asia Pacific Bariatric Surgical Society, Lee Wei-Jei, said statistics in the last three years from six Asian countries showed more weight-loss operations are being carried out.

“There is an increasing trend in the region. Bariatric surgery will increase. It will grow faster in the next two years,” Lee told reporters at a regional conference on obesity last week, saying a total of 1,340 operations were conducted in 2005 and 2006.

Bariatric surgery refers to operations that seal off most of the stomach to limit food intake.

Despite the growing demand, Lee said the region lacked surgeons qualified to perform the operations.

“There are about 30 qualified surgeons in Asia who do bariatric surgery. That’s not enough. In the United States, they have about 1,200 surgeons,” he said.

More than 200 surgeons and medical experts from 12 countries gathered here for the three-day Asia Pacific Obesity Conclave, aimed at examining a growing problem in the region.

The organizers said in statement that obesity was “a condition virtually unheard of a quarter of a century ago in Asia.”

“Obesity is a pan-endemic health problem in western countries and the prevalence is also increasing in Asian countries,” said Lee in a conference statement.

He also said Asians were more at risk of developing weight-related health problems at lower levels of obesity compared to Caucasians.

At the conference, experts shared statistics which underlined growing concerns over obesity in the region.

The head of physiological nutrition at Mahidol University’s Institute of Nutrition in Thailand, Kallaya Kijboonchoo, noted the growing trend of obesity in Thai children in the last 20 years.

More than 50 percent of pre-school children were considered malnourished in 1982 and by 1991, 80 percent had become “nutritionally normal,” she said.

However, by 2003, some 16 percent of Thai children had become obese.

“The increase of overweight and obese children is happening at an alarming rate,” she said.

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