According to Dr. William Richards, professor and chair of surgery at the USA College of Medicine and a bariatric surgeon with USA Physicians Group, treating obesity – a progressive, life-threatening disease of excess fat storage – is a medical necessity.

Dr. Richards said obesity increases your risk of a large number of associated diseases known as co-morbidities. “Many people think they are morbidly obese but generally healthy,” he said. “But if we really look into that morbid obesity, we find that there are a lot of co-morbidities that patients don’t realize that are extremely harmful.”

Obesity is often associated with co-morbidities such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, heart disease, stroke, asthma, osteoarthritis, depression, and even cancer.

With this in mind, Dr. Richards emphasized that bariatric surgery, or weight loss surgery, is meant as an improvement in your medical condition. “We have seen profound changes in weight and diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea,” he said. “All of this combines to dramatically reduce the risk of cardiovascular-related deaths.”

According to Dr. Richards, obesity can be caused by genetics, hormonal imbalances, or environmental factors such as how much you eat and exercise. A patient’s body mass index (BMI) is used to diagnose obesity by measuring body fat as it relates to a person’s height and weight. A normal BMI is 18.5-24.9. If a person’s BMI is greater than 30, they are considered obese.

Dr. Richards, who has performed bariatric surgery for the past 13 years, said common surgical approaches to obesity include laparoscopic gastric bypass and laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy. All, he said, are minimally invasive approaches that have fundamentally changed surgery.

“There is less blood loss and pain, as well as a faster recuperation time,” he said. “This all translates to a dramatically ten-fold reduction in morbidity and four-fold reduction in mortality. All three procedures work extremely well and work to change the physiology of eating, resulting in weight loss.”

Dr. Richards stressed that with any of these procedures, you must undergo lifestyle modifications to achieve and maintain weight loss. These modifications include exercising, achieving portion control and mindful eating, avoiding fast food and cutting back on high calorie beverages like sodas and juices.

“Treatment for obesity is a journey,” he said, “not a destination.”

Dr. Richards recently gave an overview of bariatric surgery at the June Med School Café lecture. To view the lecture in its entirety click here. To learn more about bariatric surgery, visit To make an appointment, call (251) 445-8282.

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