Earlier this week, Governor Chris Christie, who has been lambasted for his weight for years, announced that he underwent “secret” gastric band surgery in February. In an interview with NBC Rock Center’s Brian Williams, Christie said that after turning 50 last fall, he began to reflect on his life and realized that he wanted to get his weight “under control” so that he could be healthier for his wife and children. His weight-loss doctor likened Christie’s obesity to having cancer, asking Christie, “If you came in here with cancer and I told you that I had a 40-minute surgery that’d give you a 90 percent chance of cure, would you sign up?” Of course, Christie answered in the affirmative.
Lap-band surgery, in which an inflatable silicone device is placed around the top portion of the stomach to slow the consumption of food, is not the “cure” that Christie’s doctor says it is. For nearly half of the patients who have the surgery, the devices need to be removed due to erosion or other malfunctions. While most patients lose between 48 and 99 pounds in the first year after having the procedure, a number of studies have shown that the procedure is not successful over the long-term, resulting in sub-optimal weight loss and increase in failure rates. One of those studies saw a 36.9% failure rate (defined as an excess weight loss of <25% or major reoperation) after seven years.
Now, I am not saying that weight-loss surgery is necessarily the wrong choice for Christie – everyone has the right to make his or her own health decisions – but I am concerned about his doctor’s message that weight-loss surgery is the cure for obesity. While such surgery might be helpful in the short-term, it often leads to weight regain and numerous complications. I am hopeful that those who take particular interest in Christie, and perhaps want to emulate him, will do their own research and make informed decisions.