Many people still stigmatize those who are overweight, also known as weight bias, which is rooted in the misconception that body weight is easily controlled by diet and exercise changes.

“In reality, factors that influence body weight are complex and connected to genetics, epigenetics, medications, the environment and social issues,” says Mir Ali, M.D., medical director, Surgical Weight Loss Center, Orange Coast Medical Center. “We look at the complete makeup of each patient, and then create a care plan unique and specific to them. It’s important to see the big picture.”

woman after weight loss surgeryDespite obesity being accepted as a chronic disease, weight bias remains highly prevalent. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the rising obesity epidemic when people lived a much more sedentary lifestyle for nearly two years.

“The pandemic set us back,” says Atif Iqbal, M.D., medical director, Digestive Care Center, Orange Coast Medical Center. “Many call it ‘the COVID 15.’ In fact, 39 percent of people gained weight during the pandemic—some as much as 12.5 to 27.5 pounds — up from the typical 2.5-pound annual increase, according to Harvard Health Publishing.”

For OC residents seeking weight loss surgery, the MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center walks hand in hand with patients, providing a comprehensive program that includes nutritional guidance, support groups, education, a navigator that helps coordinate appointments and highly skilled surgeons who have performed successful weight loss surgery procedures for over 20 years.

Together, the surgical weight loss team and the patient determine if surgical weight loss is the right choice. There’s no pressure, just a conversation. This specialized program is designed for those who are 75 pounds or more overweight or have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or greater, or 35 or greater with certain co-morbidities such as hypertension, diabetes, or sleep apnea.

Surgical weight loss and who receives it, however, has shifted since the inception of Orange Coast’s surgical weight loss program.

“More and more people are realizing the benefits of surgical weight loss surgery and are opening their minds up to it,” says Michael Russo, M.D., surgical weight loss surgeon, Orange Coast Medical Center. “We are seeing women in their 30s and 40s who are seeking out weight loss surgery for reasons such as hoping to improve their fertility, removing excess weight after childbirth, preventing weight-related diseases and improving quality of life.”

When younger individuals receive weight loss surgery, their risk of obesity-related diseases decreases. Significant weight loss can potentially reverse or prevent Type 2 diabetes, lessen the chance of developing cancer, reverse upper-digestive issues, reduce joint pain, as well as prevent other life-threatening conditions. “I have seen so many lives change for the better,” say Dr. Ali. “People report improvement not only in their physical health, such as low blood pressure or fewer aches in their knees and joints, but also drastic improvements in their mental health.”

MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center patients attend a support group weekly, learn about what to expect after surgery, and meet with a nutritionist to discuss diet and lifestyle adjustments. “We don’t stop caring for you after surgery,” explains Dr. Iqbal. “We connect our patients to a network of other individuals and groups, post-surgery, with similar experiences on the weight lost journey.”

Additionally, the advances in technology and minimally invasive procedures have made more people aware of and open to the health benefits of surgical weight loss. “Today, we’re able to offer the most minimally invasive approaches, that truly work,” says Dr. Russo. “And patients are able to return home to their family the very same day — knowing they’re on their way to living a more healthy, more complete life.”

Find out if you're a candidate for weight-loss surgery by taking our short assessment