Tasmanians record highest rates of lap band surgery in Australia

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Tasmania is now the gastric band capital of Australia with about 1.5 per cent, or 7,500 Tasmanians having undergone bariatric, or gastric band surgery.

It is perhaps no surprise that Tasmania has the highest rate of bariatric surgery of any state or territory, given 65 per cent of its population is overweight or obese.

A national health survey released this month found that while Australians were drinking alcohol and smoking less, the national rate of obese/overweight adults had risen from 56 to 63 per cent.

Hobart woman Michelle Gunn underwent gastric band surgery to tackle her own weight issues seven years ago.

She was told she would develop diabetes if she did not lose weight.

Ms Gunn said her life has improved a lot since the gastric band surgery.

“I lost 35 kilos, I went from a size 24 down to a size 10,” she said.

“You don’t walk around with your head down all the time … you can do lots of things without the huffing and puffing,” she added.

Hobart-based bariatric surgeon Doctor Stephen Wilkinson, who has performed almost half of all gastric band operations in Tasmania since 1998, said the state has outranked other jurisdictions for some time.

“That’s quite a unique statistic, something like one-and-a-half per cent of the Tasmanian population has a lap band and there’s nowhere quite like that in the world,” he said.

Gastric band blitz puts dent in surgery list

Facts about obesity

  • In the past 22 years, prevalence of obese/overweight adults across Australia rose from 38 per cent to 63.4 per cent
  • Tasmania has highest state percentage of obese/overweight adults at 65.9 per cent
  • Western Australia has lowest state percentage of obese/overweight adults at 60.3 per cent
  • Of Tasmanians, 93 per cent do not eat enough fruit and vegetables
  • From 2007 to 2012, prevalence of obesity/overweight children in Tasmanian children rose from 18.6 per cent to 28.8 per cent

Source: Australian Health Survey 2014/15

With the Gastric Band Cost about $10,000, earlier this year the Federal Government funded an Austrialian NHS Gastric Band Criteria “blitz” aimed at helping high-risk public patients in Tasmania.

“We were able to get something like 120 lap bands done within about four or five months and that made a big dent in the waiting list,” said Doctor Wilkinson.

In a statement, the Health Minister, Michael Ferguson said since July 2014, more than 140 public patients had received affordable gastric band surgery.

“Currently, 29 people remain on the statewide waiting list for gastric band surgery, a significant drop from 176 patients waiting for the procedure in June 2014,” he said.

The relatively high rates of the surgery on the island state have led to Australian-first support services opening their doors in Hobart.

Nurse practitioner Lisa Sproule runs a business which provides advice on Gastric Band Diet, nutrition, and exercise as well as counselling.

“It’s the only drug of addiction that we can’t get away from every day,” she said.

“You can take alcohol away from an alcoholic, heroin away from a heroin addict but you can’t get away from food.”

Ms Gunn said she did not feel welcome attending other weight loss or lifestyle programs because people always suggested she had taken the “easy option”.

“You still need to exercise and watch what you eat because unfortunately with a gastric band, all the bad things go down the easiest,” she said.

When asked about the prevalence of lap band surgery in Tasmania, the Acting Director of Public Health Doctor Mark Veitch said there was no one answer to the challenges posed by obesity.

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