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Demand Rises in Asia for Weight-Loss Surgery


As Asian levels of obesity are catching up with the West, more and more people in the region choose to undergo weight-loss surgery. Claudia Blume at VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong reports about the growing trend.

Obesity is no longer just a problem in the West. Rising affluence in Asia means many people now have more food on their plate than they need, and often it is rich in fat and sugar. At the same time, physical activity in the region's cities is increasingly reduced. The result: more and more Asians are overweight or clinically obese, even in developing countries.

Ramen Goel is a member of the Obesity Surgery Society of India. He says while there is still a lot of malnourishment in India, there is at the same time an increasing number of overweight people. He says there is a growing trend of obesity among children, for example in the capital New Delhi.

"One in three children, the child is overweight. That means 30 percent of the children is overweight. That's a dangerous trend because it's almost at par with what you have in the USA," he said.

The health risks for extremely overweight people are enormous, and include heart disease and arthritis. But for many, exercise and diets are no longer enough to lose weight. Goel says an increasing number of morbidly obese Indians are turning to bariatric surgery, in which doctors seal off most of the stomach to limit food intake.

He said when he first started doing these operations seven years ago, he had one patient every three months on average. Now, he operates on about 10 patients every month.

Anti-obesity surgery also is a growing trend in other Asian countries - mainly in Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea. At a regional anti-obesity conference, held earlier this month in Malaysia, participants said more than one thousand three hundred weight-loss surgeries were performed in the region in the past two years.

At the moment, there are only a few dozen qualified surgeons in the whole of Asia who can carry out these operations. Isao Kawamura of the Japanese Society for the Study of Obesity says organizations like his are trying to change that.

"Actually there are not so many surgeons in this area so we must educate them to get into this area from our society," said Kawamura.

Often, Asians undergoing bariatric surgery are less overweight than Western patients.

Kawamura says overweight Asians generally have a higher risk of developing weight-related health problems such as diabetes, even when they are not morbidly obese by Western standards.