Would you go under the knife?

AS obesity levels continue to rise, the number of people turning to drastic weight loss surgery is also on the up. Health reporter SARAH GILLETT found out what makes someone decide to go under the knife in order to shed the pounds.

AS obesity levels continue to rise, the number of people turning to drastic weight loss surgery is also on the up. Health reporter SARAH GILLETT found out what makes someone decide to go under the knife in order to shed the pounds.

This time last year, Hazel Slinn was so ashamed of her weight that she could hardly bring herself to leave the house.

Weighing 14st and just 5ft tall, she was a size 20 and desperately unhappy.

“I was basically just a barrel on legs,' she said. “I had got so depressed that it got to the point where I did not want to leave the house. I hated going to work because I only had three outfits I could wear.”

In December, after struggling with diets for more than 14 years, Hazel, a mum-of-four, took the drastic decision to travel to Belgium where she paid privately for gastric bypass surgery.

She said: “I was not overweight enough to qualify for the surgery on the NHS but I knew that it was something I had to do.”

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During the operation surgeons made a small pocket out of the top part of her stomach, which was then attached to the rest of her digestive system. It was a major operation, and not without its problems.

“When I first had it done I did think 'What have I done? I found eating uncomfortable because you really have to chew your food and I don't think I was doing that before,” she said.

“For a while I thought I'd really made a mistake but once I'd taught myself to really chew my food I didn't have any more problems.”

Hazel, 35, of Hawthorne Drive, Ipswich, is now a size 14 and says she has no regrets.

She said: “I only wish I could have had it done sooner, I'd been trying to lose weight for 14 years and nothing else worked.

“It was a last resort because it is major surgery but it has changed my life.”

Hazel is one of an increasing number of women, and men, in Suffolk who have decided to brave the operating table in search of a happier, healthier life. The surgery is available on the NHS but patients from this region usually have to travel to specialist centres in the Midlands as it is not carried out at Ipswich Hospital.

They are subject to stringent criteria to ensure that it is only given to those who have an urgent clinical need for it to be done.

Brian Keeble, Suffolk's lead director for public health, said: “Surgery of this kind is in our list of restricted treatments, which means patients have to reach certain criteria before you can have it.

“They have to have gone through at least two healthy eating plans, supervised by dieticians, to try to get their weight down to a reasonable level.

“Just because you are overweight doesn't mean you will get the surgery. You have to be sufficiently overweight for it to have impacted on your health. On the whole we are only looking at people who are classed as morbidly obese and who have a body mass index of more than 40.”

Around two thirds of adults are now considered obese and, in Suffolk alone, obesity-related illness is costing health trusts £17.5m a year.

Despite a range of measures being introduced to try to prevent the problem spiralling, Dr Keeble and health professionals across the county are bracing themselves for things to become even worse.

He said: “It is a problem that we are going to have to face more and more.

“Surgery is very effective but it is not without risks.

“It is essentially a sticking plaster on a much wider problem in society.”

Do you think it's right that this kind of surgery is carried out by the NHS?

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With the UK in the grip of an obesity epidemic, health trusts in Suffolk are doing everything they can to stop the problems before they start.

In a bid to understand the scale of the problem they carried out a thorough weighing and measuring programme of school children throughout the summer term, the details of which are due to be released next month .

There is also a firm emphasis on preventative work, but the budget for this is limited.

Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in east Suffolk received just £80,000 in central government funding to help with preventative obesity work this year.

Norman Foster, health improvement manager for the Suffolk East PCTs, said: “It might sound like a lot of money but, in the context of an organisation with a multi-million pound budget, it's not that much.

“Obesity is a highly complex problem. There are a lot of mental and emotional issues that can be involved as well as the physical side of things. The help and support that people need is multi-faceted.”

One of the PCTs biggest success stories this year has been the introduction of a Slimming on Referral scheme, where patients are given vouchers for Slimming World sessions by their GP.

Mr Foster said: “Overall, the thing that we are trying to push more than anything else is that it's a life-style issue.

“That's why we are investing so much in the preventative side.

“If we can stop people from needing intensive treatment like surgery it's much better for patients and much better for the NHS because it saves us money.”

Two Ipswich sisters who have had weight-loss surgery have set up their own support group for other people who have had the surgery or are considering it. Linda Perkins and Karen Pengelly lost 40st between them. See www.wlsinfoforums.org.uk or email: lindaperkins1969@yahoo.co.uk

In the UK, about two-thirds (66 per cent) of adults are now overweight or obese.

Of these, 22 per cent of men and 23 per cent of women are obese (at least two to three stone overweight), meaning their weight is putting their health at considerable risk.

The level of obesity has tripled in the past 20 years, and is still rising.

The prevalence of obesity in children aged under 11 increased from 9.9 percent in 1995 to 13.7 percent in 2003.

Your Body Mass Index is your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in metres.

A BMI less than 18.4 means you are underweight.

A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 means you're an ideal weight for your height.

A BMI between 25 and 29.9 means you're over the ideal weight for your height.

A BMI between 30 and 39.9 means you are obese.

A BMI over 40 means you are morbidly obese.

To calculate your BMI visit: www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/interactivetools/bmi.aspx

Alice Swallow, 19, of Slough Road, Brantham, said: “If they're young they should do exercise.

“People should only have the operations on the NHS if they really need it.”

Joan Flegg, 69, Bramford Lane, Ipswich, said: “It depends on the complaint. If it's serious the NHS should pay but people should try to diet themselves.”

Melanie Thurston, 40, Stanhope Close, Snape, said: “If people have tried diets then they should have an operation.

“The operations should be available on the NHS.”

Nick Smith, 35, of Alexander Road, Ipswich, said: “People should try dieting first.

“Surgery should only be available for really severe cases.”

Gavin Elson, 18, of Wignall Street, Manningtree, said: “I suppose it's a good idea if it's a last resort after exercise and dieting.

“Operations shouldn't be paid for on the NHS if the cause is laziness, only if it's a serious condition.”

Patricia Randall, 66, of Craven Drive, Colchester, said:

“They are a good idea but people should try exercise first.

“If people want them they should pay for the operations themselves, not the NHS.”