Obesity genes mean surgery, says Chch doctor

23:09, Nov 21 2012

Weight-loss surgery could be the only solution for people who have inherited obesity genes, says a Christchurch surgeon.

Dr Steven Kelly, who spoke at the annual Weightloss Surgery New Zealand Trust conference on Saturday, said 80 per cent of obesity was due to genetics and had nothing to do with lack of willpower.

"Weight balance is difficult to control," he said.

"Diets, drugs and psychotherapy don't work when you're morbidly obese. Only surgery works."

About 1000 weight-loss operations were being performed in New Zealand each year, including 100 in Christchurch. The number could only be expected to grow as New Zealand was in the middle of an obesity epidemic, said Kelly.

It had more to do with eating habits rather than exercise, because we were doing the same amounts of exercise as 20 to 30 years ago.


Mike Robb, of Bromley, who underwent gastric sleeve surgery in April 2010, went from 139kg to 88kg.

"There were two reasons [why I decided to have surgery]," he said. "I had grandchildren arriving and I wanted to be around for a long time with them. My health was really still quite good, but why wait until it breaks down?"

Robb believed he had a genetic disposition towards obesity as his family were big. "My dad died at age 60 from those kinds of reasons too."

Before undergoing surgery, Robb had to get his wife and children to agree to it.

His quality of life had improved a lot since, and he was now able to play squash for the first time in 25 years. "I'm playing against people in their 20s and I'm winning as much as I'm losing," he said.

He also did a lot more tramping. Before surgery, it had been too tiring. "It's like walking with a 40kg backpack."

Robb had recommended surgery to several of his overweight friends. However, it was not a complete solution, he said.

"You've still really got to watch yourself.

"It's a tool. It doesn't really fix it. If you really abused it you could probably put all the weight back on again."

Another woman who underwent weight-loss surgery had been house-bound before the operation.

Showering, which now takes her 15 to 20 minutes, used to take her two hours and it "exhausted" her.

She remembered being first teased about her size when she was seven, and in high school she was told she could not play netball because of her size.

"I got a lot more self confidence [after having surgery and losing weight]," she said.

Raewyn Teh had weight-loss surgery because she wanted to live. "I didn't want to survive. I wanted to live."

After surgery, she dropped from 150kg to 64kg.

Organiser Robyn Sullivan said the Christchurch conference also acted as a support group for people who had undergone the procedure.

Conference attendee Kim, who did not want her last name used, said the conference was about "hanging out" with other people who had been through similar experiences.

"We're almost a little culture of our own," she said.

Sunday Star Times