With obesity and its associated medical problems on the rise in Australia, can a new type of gastric balloon help people change their eating habits?
The Australian Medical Association reports that over 60% of Australians are obese, making obesity the biggest public health challenge facing the country. But we’re not alone – obesity is also a struggle for other developed nations such as the U.S.A. and the UK. In the UK, for example, 63% of adults are classed to be overweight or obese, and obesity-related health care is thought to have cost their National Health Service £6.1 billion between 2014 and 2015.
There are many treatments available to help with weight loss including simple strategies such as diet and exercise regimens right through to gastrointestinal surgery. Gastric balloons are usually recommended as a last resort for patients who have failed to lose weight through other means, and like any surgical procedure, it carries risks which must be weighed up against the potential benefits.
A new study suggests that emerging techniques are set to revolutionise how gastric ballooning is performed. In May 2017, a study conducted by Sapienza University in Italy was presented to the
European Congress of Obesity demonstrating a new method for fitting patients with a gastric balloon. Instead of surgery, this procedure involves the patient swallowing a medically-designed balloon which makes its way into the stomach, where it is then filled with liquid until it occupies a significant amount of space. The idea behind the treatment is that, with reduced stomach space, the patient feels fuller much more quickly and ends up eating less than usual. Over time, this results in weight loss.
The study showed that this new type of balloon was safe and effective, and patients on the trial lost up to 15kg in four months. Despite this, participant numbers were limited (38), so more research is needed to look at a greater sample size over a longer period of time when considering the long-term outcomes of this treatment.
While the concept of gastric balloons isn’t new, up until now they have had to be inserted or removed in a hospital setting, which carries a great risk of complications such as infection.
Swallowing the balloon instead of having it surgically inserted avoids many risks. The downside is that the balloon only lasts up to 4 months before it deflates naturally and the liquid is excreted.
This means that the onus is on the patient to stick to the reduced meal sizes they have been consuming while the balloon was in place, or else they could simply regain any weight lost.
Although gastric ballooning is a temporary weight loss strategy, as opposed to gastric surgery which is long term, it could provide the impetus for obese people to lose the weight for good. It provides patients with a jump-start in weight loss which is hoped will motivate them towards long-term changes in their eating habits.