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OPINION: Surgery doesn’t solve state’s problem

The Mississippi Senate last week revived a bill for state-funded gastric bypass surgery, then passed the bill and sent it to the governor.

And by the time this column reaches your home, Gov. Haley Barbour may have already signed it into law.

The proposal authorizes the public employees’ health insurance plan to pay for gastric bypass surgery for up to 100 obese state government workers a year.

The bill was originally defeated, but Sen. Terry Burton held it for more debate. He told lawmakers that the surgery costs about $26,000. He said that compares to between $44,000 and $100,000 spent on heart procedures many obese state employees may have to undergo.

On the face of it, the bill makes sense. Let’s head off extraordinary costs in the long run by spending less in the short term.

And, there is no question that Mississippi has the highest obesity rate in the nation, not to mention the highest heart disease rate in the nation.

Funny how that goes together.

For many people, gastric bypass is a God send as a weapon against obesity.

And, according to a major new review of the research, surgery to shrink the stomach can resolve the symptoms of diabetes in nearly eight out of 10 patients who have it.

Wow!

If you have diabetes, you have too much glucose in your blood. The most common form is type 2 diabetes, which tends to affect people later in life and is often tied to being very overweight. Losing weight can greatly improve the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, but many people have difficulty slimming down with diet and exercise alone.

But, like so many other things, supplying gastric bypass surgery to obese state employees isn’t a long-term solution.

We all have our own battle with weight. We’re up, we’re down. We’re walking, running, dieting and any number of other things to try to win the battle of the bulge.

Gastric bypass may be a drastic answer for those who are drastically overweight.

But, our problem, particularly in the South, is we teach our children to become obese at an early age.

We are all to blame. We feed ourselves fried chicken, fast food burgers and french fries two and sometimes three meals a day. Kids learn from our habits.

One thing that makes sense is to change the curriculum of our public schools to include mandatory diet and exercise classes. The old health and P.E. obviously ain’t getting it done.

It’s all about a change in lifestyle.

Gastric bypass is an extreme way to make an immediate dent in an extreme problem. It isn’t a change in lifestyle.

If Mississippi is going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on these surgeries in an attempt to make for a healthy life for these individuals, the Legislature should require the surgery recipients to attend health and diet classes.

If you have never learned how to live healthy up until gastric bypass, why would we expect people to know how after gastric bypass.

The legislation is not a terrible answer to the problem, it just isn’t the entire answer.

Contact MBJ managing editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com.

About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.

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