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11th October 2019

How I tackled obesity once and for all

On World Obesity Day, Stefanie Wirtz opens up about her personal struggle with obesity and the turning point that led her to undergo bariatric surgery.

“I’ve lived with obesity since childhood, and like most of those affected, I’ve tried many ways to reduce my weight: nutritional and behavioural therapies, numerous media-offered remedies, to name just a few, but none of these attempts has ever led to long-term success,” the Director of Education and Learning at the European Coalition for People living with Obesity tells This Is MedTech. “Unfortunately, there is no uniform treatment for obesity.”

Excess body weight is known to cause orthopaedic problems such as joint ache and back pain, but most importantly, it also increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, liver disorders and even cancer. Apart from health-related problems, obesity can also lead to social stigma and isolation. The fear of being stigmatised often results in people avoiding medical care, thus preventing patients from receiving the correct treatment.

For instance, some people can benefit greatly from bariatric surgery like Stephanie did. This procedure involves either reducing the stomach size with a gastric band, removal of a portion of the stomach (sleeve gastrectomy or biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch) or resecting and re-routing the small intestine to a small stomach pouch (gastric bypass surgery).

Stefanie‘s turning point was fear related. She didn’t want to find herself fighting obesity for the rest of her life. “I was petrified of increasing my blood pressure and developing diabetes,” she explains, noting her family history of both health conditions. “All of the sudden, I was afraid that I wouldn’t see my daughter growing up, I wouldn’t be able to attend her wedding and I’d never get to know my grandchildren. Basically, I’d miss all the most important and beautiful things in life.”

In 2009 she underwent bariatric surgery and subsequently lost 80kg. “Thanks to the operation, I‘ve regained my health, I no longer suffer from sleep apnoea and I‘ve finally started to participate in everyday life,” she says.

As a result of her experience, Stefanie founded the patient organisation AdipositasHilfe Deutschland e.V. in Germany. The goal is to create a network of individual patient support groups, train their leaders and get obesity recognised as a disease throughout Europe with a view to giving patients access to uniform treatment. Putting in place prevention therapy is also a critical part of their work.

According to the World Health Organization, there are around two billion overweight adults, 650 million of whom are classified as obese. Despite these numbers, the extent of the problem is still drastically underestimated. People who live with obesity find it stressful and demoralising, and efforts to lose weight are frequently unsuccessful.

Every year, World Obesity Day aims to stimulate and support practical actions that will help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight and reverse the global obesity crisis. To raise awareness of this chronic, relapsing disease, Stephanie believes it’s important to hear the voice of the people who are affected: “It’s now time to listen to these stories – it’s time to act.”