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New Zealand needs more bariatric procedures

If current trends continue the country could pass the US and Mexico as the nation with the largest proportion of the population classed as overweight and/or obese

The Government is not providing enough funding for bariatric surgery even though the country is at risk of becoming the fattest nation on earth, according to an editorial for The New Zealand Medical Journal. In the editorial, authors Steven Kelly and Richard Flint claim that if current trends continue the country could pass the US and Mexico as the nation with the largest proportion of the population classed as overweight and/or obese. New Zealand is ranked as the third-fattest nation in the OECD, with about a third of all adults considered obese.

A total of 889 bariatric procedures were performed in the year to February 2014, half of which were funded by the taxpayer, a total far less than those who needed it. In 2014, the Government announced it would provide an extra $10 million to provide an additional 480 operations over the next four years (at an estimated cost of $20,000 each).

"If somebody's morbidly obese at 150kg, they can't afford just to lose three or four kilos. To make a big difference to their lives they really need to lose 50 kilos and the only way they can realistically do that long term is with surgery," Steven Kelly told Newstalk ZB. “Compare it to the alternatives which are dieting and exercise and drugs. We know they don't work. The only thing that works with significant weight loss for the morbidly obese is weight loss surgery."

The editorial calculated that morbidly obese Australians are more than three times more likely to gain access to weight-loss surgery, whether privately or publicly, than a morbidly obese New Zealander.

Former associate health minister Tariana Turia, a weight loss surgery patient herself, accused the Government of prejudice against the obese. "Most often you're talking to people that think it's your fault, that you get fat, you get sick. But that prejudice is costing the state a lot of money," she said.

Nevertheless, the current government is placing an emphasis on education. "I'm really interested in long term solutions to the problem, especially focusing on kids and preventing them from becoming overweight in the first place, because that is where the pattern is set for the rest of their lives,” said Health Minister Jonathan Coleman, who stated that claims bariatric surgery would save them money are not true and the reality is the surgery would become a short term solution.”

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