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Published: Tuesday, 10/19/2004

Obesity surgery's temptation

OBESE people with a host of ills that often accompany the additional weight can usually get rid of both with obesity surgery. For some, the surgery is necessary when other methods of weight reduction fail. But overweight people with diabetes and heart disease shouldn't start lining up outside surgeons' offices. Exercise and eating less remain the better, cheaper, and safer routes.

Dropping excess weight would be good advice for anyone who wants to decrease the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other health problems.

Having said all that, consider this: About two-thirds of American adults are overweight and about half of those are grossly overweight, some weighing 100 pounds more than they should. That's obesity. For them, surgery may be the last resort.

A study in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association says that in obese people with certain illnesses, the sicknesses disappeared after surgery in which parts of their stomachs or intestines were removed or rearranged. Diabetes disappeared in about 77 percent of the patients; high blood pressure went away in 62 percent, cholesterol levels improved in about 70 percent of the patients, and sleep apnea disappeared in 86 percent of the patients.

Clearly, obese people don't only get a new look with the surgery, they get improved health and a new outlook on life.

The findings may persuade millions of overweight people to consider an operation. But there are risks, notably the notion that surgery is just another way to diet.

The study's findings prove what doctors say: Losing weight decreases stress on the cardiovascular system and reduces the risk for diabetes. So unless you face a life-threatening situation, don't expect a surgeon to agree to rearrange your innards just because you've picked up a few pounds.

Take the less stressful route: Eat less, and exercise more.

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