The myths of obesity and weight-loss surgery

Written by: Mr Omar Khan
Edited by: Bronwen Griffiths

Despite the current obesity epidemic in the UK, many hold negative opinions about the concept of weight-loss surgery. However, many of the arguments held against bariatric surgery are based on misconceptions and misunderstandings. Mr Omar Khan, a leading bariatric surgeon, dispels some of these commonly believed myths about both weight-loss surgery and obesity.

“Obesity is not a disease, just a modern fad”

You have heard the oft-quoted myth that obesity didn’t exist until the 1980s, but it is important to make clear that, of course, it did. Obesity has been ever-present throughout human history. Indeed the above statue (the Venus of Willendorf) dates back to 25,000BC - it represent the oldest sculptural representation of the human form and depicts what we would now describe as a clinically obese woman!

What is clear is that obesity is now more prevalent than ever before - a consequence not so much of lifestyle “choices” but more our improving socio-economic standards and the falling cost of food production. What is clear is that in an environment with easy access to high calorie foods, all mammals will develop an obesity problem (as evident by the epidemic of obesity amongst not just humans but pets in the Western World).

“Weight-loss surgery is cheating - people should just go on a diet”

For many, when thinking about weight-loss, we think about exercise and diet. Whilst these are essential for preventing obesity and Type II diabetes, they alone cannot help people who are already morbidly obese. In the UK, it is approximated that there are more than one million adults who are considered morbidly obese.

To explain why diet and exercise cannot help such patients, one needs to understand the permanent physiological changes experienced by the morbidly obese. Such changes can be described as an alteration to the patient’s ‘internal weight thermostat’ where their weight is defended against dietary reductions by the production of increased levels of hunger hormones. Although it is possible to use will-power to overcome these hunger hormones, it is extremely difficult.

Weight-loss surgery provides patients with a tool to change their diet by overcoming their hunger hormone levels, hence altering their physiology. In much the same way that a smoker might use nicotine patches to help them to quit smoking, a gastric band or bypass can be used by an overweight patient to lose their weight and to combat their addiction to food.

“Weight-loss surgery is risky with poor long-term results”

Although as with any surgery there are risks, the mortality rate following weight-loss surgery is less than 1 in 1000, making the horror stories of weight-loss surgery so loved by many news outlets actually very rare. In actual fact, weight-loss surgery is one of the most cost-effective and successful treatments for patients with obesity, allowing them to lose weight and to both cure and prevent diabetes. However, despite these great outcomes, less than 1% of patients in the UK who could benefit from this surgery actually undergo these life-changing operations.

Weight-loss surgery has been viewed in a negative light by many for too long. It is not an option that should reluctantly be offered to patients who can be deemed undeserving of care, but an effective treatment and investment in long-term health improvement.


If you are struggling with your weight and would like to know about treatment options, make an appointment with an expert.

Mr Omar Khan

By Mr Omar Khan

Mr Omar Ahmed Khan is a specialist consultant upper GI and Bariatric surgeon  based in  London and Surrey. He works privately at Parkside Hospital in Wimbledon and St. Anthony's, Sutton; as well as in Surrey at  Ashtead Hospital and Mount Alvernia, Guilford.

His areas of expertise include; weight loss (bariatric) surgery, gallbladder surgery, gastric reflux and hiatal hernias and abdominal wall hernias

Mr Khan graduated  from the University of Cambridge in 1997 and went on to complete his surgical training (as well as a PhD in Obesity and Cardiovascular Sciences and a law degree). He then completed a bariatric fellowship before being appointed as a consultant at St Georges Hospital, London, one of the leading teaching hospitals in the United Kingdom, where he is currently the Upper GI surgical lead.

Mr Khan is an honorary senior lecturer at the University of London and has published over 160 book chapters and peer-reviewed articles. He lectures nationally and internationally on weight loss surgery and his research has been published in the Lancet and covered in the national and international press. . He has a particular interest in patient safety- he is on the national committee for the UK National Bariatric Registry and  is frequently asked to act as a medicolegal expert.

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