Obesity surgery is about to get a lot more accessible. According to the New York Times, an FDA panel is recommending lowering the limits on new lap-band surgeries, which would make millions more people eligible for the surgery. The Lap-Band surgery has been around since the 90s. It’s less drastic than older surgeries where doctors would literally cut away a small part of the stomach. Instead, the lap-band is like a rubber band that the surgeon puts around the top of the stomach. It’s reversible and less expensive.
Up until now, only people who had a Body Mass Index of 40 or higher could get the operation – or people with a BMI of 35, if they have a complication like diabetes or hypertension. Allergan, the company that makes most of the lap-bands used today, has been pushing to have that number lowered to 30 with a complication, 35 without, and the FDA panel went for it. That means a person who’s 5 foot 6 inches tall USED to have to weigh almost 250 pounds to qualify for the operation. Under the new guidelines the same person could weigh 50 pounds less and still qualify. Guess what? That’s about 20 percent of the entire population.
Allergan potentially just found tens of millions of new customers. There’s nothing wrong with that. Losing weight saves lives, but the lap-band does have a few problems that worry the experts. First, it might not be all that effective. Studies show that patients lose less weight with the band than with stomach stapling. Some as little as 15 pounds total. There’s evidence that the band stops working after a few years and people either stop losing or gain the weight back. Some doctors have even stopped doing the operation because a third of patients want their surgery reversed because of side effects. The bottom line on gastric banding: It’s safer and cheaper than stomach stapling, but probably less effective. Also, the experts say it needs a few more years of study and it should still be the last resort for anyone who’s severely obese.