Sharp rise in obesity surgery rate

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 05:00 25/12/2012
Obese and lazy
Don Scott
LARGE: The obesity rate in New Zealand is on the rise.

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The number of obesity surgeries in New Zealand has risen nearly 100 per cent over the past six years and "you only need to walk down the street" to see why, a surgeon says.

Ministry of Health figures show 389 gastric bypass surgeries were performed in the public health system over the past year - nearly six times more than in 2005-2006.

Health Ministry electives manager Clare Perry said it was a sign of increased funding that the number of surgeries had gone up.

In 2010, $2 million was made available to District Health Boards to carry out bariatric surgeries.

"This funding is expected to provide an additional 300 bariatric operations nationally over four years, an average of 75 per year, which has been achieved.

"This funding has been allocated to DHBs proportional to their populations," Perry said.

Auckland District Health Board gastrointestinal and bariatric surgeon Grant Berbar said while it would be ideal the numbers of surgeries went down, in reality, more were needed.

"You just need to walk down the street to see New Zealand's obesity problem, and it is a problem of deprivation.

"It's not just the fact that people are fat, it's all the associated health problems that come with it."

Rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and liver diseases - all associated with obesity - have skyrocketed over the past decade.

According to Diabetes New Zealand,  more than 208,000 New Zealanders have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.

About 50 people are diagnosed as having diabetes in New Zealand every day.

He said while the increase was substantial, they were still dealing with relatively small numbers.

"It's a sign of a few things, firstly there are increasing numbers of morbidly obese people needing the surgery, there are also more hospitals and greater funding to provide access, and there is a better understanding of the benefits and outcomes of this surgery so it's increasingly being seen as a viable treatment."

Berbar said many hospitals only had the capacity to treat the chronic diseases which were often the secondary symptoms of obesity.

He said each surgery generally costs about $20,000, so the government funding was welcome, "but more could certainly be done".

"And more has to be done if we're wanting to reduce the burden of obesity on the health system," he said.

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