Obesity is costing Canadians a fortune -- an estimated $1.1 billion annually. While OHIP used to pay some candidates to have bariatric bypass surgery in the United States, in Ontario alone, 9,000 people paid private clinics $18,000 a piece to have an inflatable ring surgically inserted around their stomach to limit their food consumption.
Only the morbidly obese or those with deadly health conditions are accepted as candidates. So far $9 million of the program's $75 million budget has been spent to expand bariatric centres in hospitals across the province. That means wider operating room beds, wider stretchers, larger-sized ambulances, and toilets that can bear up to 1,000 lbs.
"Obesity is the new smoking," says Dr Lloyd Smith, chief surgeon at Toronto's St Joseph's Health Centre. "Surgery is dealing with the disaster; it's not dealing with the problem. We're taking people who are killing themselves (with food) and saving their lives. (Obesity) is an example of something that's entirely preventable."
In one horrific example of what morbid obesity can do -- and the extent to which it puts strain on the bones: a woman stood up, sheared her ankle, and bled to death.
"There are two people sitting in this body and I would like to be down to one person," said Diane Eley, a recent bariatric bypass patient. "I was waking up at night, holding my pads of fat, crying..."
In time, with healthy eating habits, Eley's stomach will be the size of a tennis ball. If she sticks with the program, in a few months' time all the yellow fat inside her body will simply burn away. In some cases, however, candidates for the surgery revert to their old ways. Ice cream and chocolate can still slide past the band... Dr Chris Cobourn warned that all patients were at risk of reverting to form, adding that bariatric surgery does not offer "magic solutions".
Starting next September, Ontario school cafeterias will finally ban hot dogs, fries, and other junk food. Health officials will also weigh students, turning the scale away so that children cannot see the number. Reports are then sent home to parents with advice on healthy eating and weight loss. But shrinking the problem of obesity is going to require "a massive education program, much like the anti-smoking campaign, to teach parents about the impact of low-cost junk food," said Dr Ian Janseen of Queen's University's Centre for Obesity Research and Education (CORE).
In the Toronto Star report, a Toronto health worker recalled seeing a 280 pound 11-year-old girl. The girl's mother apparently saw nothing wrong with her daughter's size. Eventually the girl stopped visiting the health worker.