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Surg Clin North Am. 2001 Oct;81(5):1039-61.

Morbidity of severe obesity.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, New York 11203, USA.


Although obesity is an easy diagnosis to make, its etiologies, pathophysiology, and symptomatology are extraordinarily complex. Progress in surgical technique and anesthesiological management has substantially improved the safety of performing operations on the severely obese in the last 20 years. These improvements have occurred more or less empirically, without a full understanding of etiology or pathophysiology, although this has advanced concomitantly with improvements in practice. This review has attempted to provide a framework to facilitate progress in the neglected areas of patient selection and choice of operation, in an effort to improve long-term outcome. Despite the disparate etiologies of obesity and its diverse comorbidities and complications, there are unifying interdependent pathogenetic mechanisms of great relevance to the practice of antiobesity surgery. The rate of eating, whether driven by HPA dysfunction, ambient stress, or related hereditary susceptibility factors including the increased energy demands of an expanded body fat mass, participates in a cycle that results in disordered satiety (see Fig. 3). This leads to substrate overload, causing extensive metabolic abnormalities such as atherogenesis, insulin resistance, thrombogenesis, and carcinogenesis. This interpretation of the pathophysiology of obesity ironically accords with the original meaning of the word obesity: "to overeat." The ultimate solution to the problem of obesity--preventing it--will not be forthcoming until the food industry is forced to lower production and change its marketing strategies, as the liquor and tobacco industries in the United States were compelled to do. This cannot occur until the large and fast-growing populations of industrialized nations become educated in the personal implications of the energy principle. Regardless of whether school curricula are modified to prioritize health education, the larger problems of cultural and economic change remain for the groups most susceptible to obesity. In this context, antiobesity surgery will continue to thrive, especially in the absence of effective alternatives.

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