'Mega obese' can't get help

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Last updated 05:00 12/07/2014

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Hospitals are struggling to cope with growing numbers of "mega obese" patients, a Christchurch surgeon says.

Steven Kelly, from Christchurch Weightloss Surgery, said a lack of government funding meant hundreds of people who could benefit from weight-loss surgery were being turned away.

The Press yesterday reported on a 320-kilogram woman who had to be lifted from her Christchurch home by six firefighters.

The 54-year-old, and the mattress she lay on, were placed on a loader and carried to a waiting ambulance on Thursday.

She remained in Christchurch Hospital and declined to comment yesterday.

Kelly, one of the city's three bariatric surgeons, described the woman as "mega obese" and "at the top end of patients" in the country.

She would need to lose about 100kg before he would consider performing weight-loss surgery on her.

"She's on a knife edge [at her current weight] and could die on the operating table," Kelly said.

The country's most experienced bariatric surgeon, Richard Stubbs, said the woman was likely beyond surgical intervention.

"For people to survive surgery they have got to be reasonably mobile to get themselves going. She needs to be able to stand on her feet and walk around a little," he said.

Stubbs had carried out about 1500 operations on obese patients in a career spanning 18 years.

The heaviest person he had treated weighed 360kg. Fewer than 2 per cent of his patients were more than 200kg.

"The answer for severe or morbid obesity is never going to be dieting and exercise."

A report released by the New Zealand Medical Association last month said New Zealand was the fourth fattest country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, behind the United States, Mexico and Hungary.

Kelly said "heavier and heavier" patients were coming into the hospital and "it's difficult to manage them".

As a result, a multimillion-dollar redevelopment of Christchurch Hospital included plans for purpose-built rooms to deal specifically with morbidly obese patients, he said.

They would include in-built lifting cranes, wider doors and larger beds and chairs. Research showed about 60 per cent of obesity cases were because of a person's genetics, Kelly said.

It also showed the average New Zealander was eating about 350 calories more than their body required each day.

"Portion sizes are increasing and foods are heavily fortified with sugar and your body is just not designed to cope with it," he said.

"We are perfectly designed to live in a land of lean but the problem is we now live in a land of plenty."

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Kelly urged officials to boost regulation and improve education about bad foods.

The Government committed $8 million in 2010 to fund an extra 300 weight-loss operations across the country.

More funding was needed for bariatric [weight-loss] surgery, he said.

Across the South Island, about 400 people were competing for about 50 publicly-funded weight-loss operations each year.

Privately, bariatric surgery costs more than $20,000.

"It's actually cheaper to do this surgery than it is to pay for all the problems these people have. It's a no-brainer," Kelly said.

A Ministry of Health spokesman said 421 bariatric surgery procedures were performed nationally in 2012-13.

This had more than tripled compared to 2007-08, when there were 131 procedures. A further $10m had been allocated in the 2014 Budget for at least 480 bariatric surgery operations over the next four years, in addition to procedures already funded out of DHB elective surgery budgets, he said.

- The Press

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