With obesity on the rise, India is emerging as one of the fastest-growing centers in the billion-dollar global market for stomach-shrinking, or bariatric surgery.
Weight-loss operations are gaining in popularity in urban centers all across India. Two years ago, Karsan Patel, a businessman from Mumbai, who weighed 162 kilograms (356 lbs.) suffered from severe diabetes and sleep apnea. He could barely walk a few steps without feeling breathless and as a consequence his business activities also suffered.
He was advised by a colleague to undergo so-called bariatric surgery in a popular hospital. Now, a year later, Patel has lost almost 50 kilos and achieved the Cinderella ending he wanted.
In New Delhi, Prateek Kumar, a corporate executive had long suffered obesity-related conditions, such as gastro-esophageal reflux disease, a heart condition, high blood pressure, sleep disorders and Type-2 diabetes. Life had become unbearable. Six months after going under the knife, Kumar is smiling again.
"I have lost 30 kilos and now exercise regularly. I'm back having a reasonable social life. What is most important, though, is that I don't receive sarcastic comments and stares any more," Kumar told DW.
Both Patel and Kumar were only following a fashionable trend that seems to have captured the imagination of urban India where middle-class citizens are increasingly opting for bariatric surgery. The procedure reduces the size of the stomach using various techniques, resulting in less appetite and a reduced intake of food. The body begins to use up stored fat for physical activity resulting in quick and sustained weight loss. The procedure is not only helpful for losing weight, but also in keeping it off. Due to the reduced food intake, the chances of weight gain are negligible.
The weight-loss operations are gaining popularity in metropolitan areas as evidence builds of their usefulness in fighting diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other obesity-related conditions. Statistics reveal a growing number of patients find this procedure attractive and affordable.
Urbanites opting for surgery
Dr. Shashank Shah, a bariatric surgeon from Pune, who performed over 250 operations last year, said it is an emerging fad and even youngsters look at it as a shortcut to reducing weight.
"People don't mind paying up, hoping that they will look slim and trim after the surgery, However, we treat surgery as an option only if medical treatment fails," said Shah.
An increasing number of overweight politicians are also opting for this procedure as a solution to obesity.
The former Bharatiya Janata Party national president, Nitin Gadkari, has not been the only one to undergo surgery to gain control over his weight and diabetes. Ministers, members of parliament and corporate heads have also chosen this path to get healthier on the job.
"I have many patients from political parties. Since they can afford it, they go for this procedure. All of them want to look good and fit before the 2014 elections," Dr. Mufazzal Lakdawal, a leading surgeon, told DW.
Depending on the type of surgery, patients lose between 36 per cent and 90 per cent of their excess body fat in six months to two years. With obesity becoming a concern worldwide, weight loss surgery has become one of the most sought-after procedures.
It costs a fortune to get weight-loss surgery done in western countries - such as the US, UK Australia, or Canada - but in India cheap weight loss surgery is readily available. "It costs about 3,500 euros in India - more than a third less than in western countries," Dr. Pradeep Arora, a Delhi surgeon, told DW.
Obesity, considered a "killer lifestyle" disease, is an important cause of preventable death worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 1.2 billion people worldwide are officially classified as overweight.
In India, where millions of people suffer from malnutrition, a recent study listed an alarming 70 per cent of India's urban population in the overweight or obese category.