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On Feb. 16, 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Lap-Band weight-loss surgery for patients who are significantly less obese than those who were previously eligible. The FDA approval now makes eligible patients with a body mass index as low as 30 (or approximately 50 pounds overweight) if they have at least one weight-related medical condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

More than 11 million more Americans are now eligible to undergo this procedure, which reduces the size of the stomach to make the patient feel full quicker.

Dr. Julie Ellner, a surgical weight-loss specialist at Alvarado Hospital and a well-known authority on bariatric surgery, believes that caution should also be a key part of the Lap-Band dialogue. "This is welcomed news for all of us who work each day to help patients regain happier and healthier lives through weight loss – but it’s not a magic bullet. Lap-Band surgery is only a tool, and one that should only be used on selected patients. For patients with significant weight to lose, there are other procedures that work better.”

Dr. Ellner is concerned that all the attention on the Lap-Band procedure will drive many patients to clinics or others not trained in surgical weight loss. "Obesity is a major epidemic in America and I’m pleased the FDA realizes that improved access to care can make a difference,” she said. "But patients who make a mad dash to an untrained or non-center of excellence may not be satisfied with the results and, ultimately, that does more harm than good.”

Dr. Ellner said she has used the Lap-Band on many patients and sees many positive results, but they are not for every patient. "There needs to be a realistic discussion of expectations of what the Lap-Band can and can’t do.”

For more information or a referral to a bariatric surgeon, call 619-229-3340.