American Obesity Rate Continues to Climb — Is Surgery the Answer?

Story at-a-glance

  • According to the latest statistics, 30.4 percent of American adults aged 20 and older were obese in 2015, up by half a percent from the year before, and 9.5 percent of Americans aged 18 and over have type 2 diabetes
  • The solution for obesity and diabetes is a high-fat, low-net carb diet, yet this truth is largely ignored. Instead, diabetes specialists are now calling for gastric surgery to become a standard treatment for obese diabetics
  • The latest weight loss fad getting ready to hit the U.S. market by the end of this year involves an inflatable balloon system, which has been shown to help people lose up to 7 percent of their body weight


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

By Dr. Mercola

According to the latest statistics1,2 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based on the largest health survey in the U.S., more Americans are obese and diabetic than ever before.  

Among adults aged 20 and older, the obesity rate was 30.4 percent in 2015, up by half a percent from the year before. While that's not a huge jump, it's the continuation of a trend that began in 1997, at which time 19.4 percent of adult Americans were obese.

Two even more recent studies3 published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) show that 35 percent of American men, 40 percent of women and 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.

Disturbingly, nearly 10 percent of women and 5.5 percent of men fell into the class 3 obesity category, with a BMI of 40 or higher.

The same trend can be seen on a global scale. Obesity around the world has increased from 105 million in 1975 to 641 million in 2014. Worldwide, obese individuals now outnumber people who are underweight from starvation, and by a significant margin.4

Diabetes rates are also on the rise, with 9.5 percent of Americans ages 18 and over reporting having diabetes in 2015, up by 0.4 percent from the year before.

As with obesity, diabetes is on the rise worldwide. A recent World Health Organization (WHO) study reports diabetes among adults has quadrupled in the past 40 years and now affects 422 million people.5

Obesity Most Prevalent Among Black Women and the Middle Aged

Obesity rate of adult in U.S.
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Source: CDC Early Release of Selected Estimates Based on Data From the January to March 2015 National Health Interview Survey

In the U.S., obesity rates vary depending on ethnicity, sex and age as follows:

  • 45 percent of African American women and 35.1 percent of African American men were obese in 2015
  • 32.6 percent of Hispanic women and 32 percent of Hispanic men were obese
  • 27.2 percent of Caucasian women and 30.2 percent of Caucasian men were obese
  • 34.6 percent of 40- to 59-year-olds were obese, compared to 26.5 percent of 20- to 39-year-olds and 30.1 percent of seniors over the age of 60

Surgery Becoming the Standard Treatment for 'Diabesity'

There's a relatively simple solution to the obesity problem. As a general rule, people simply are not getting enough healthy fat in their diet while eating far too many net carbs (total carbs minus fiber).

The result of that kind of diet is weight gain. Unfortunately, this isn't what conventional medicine recommends to those struggling with weight problems and diabetes.

Instead, 45 international organizations representing diabetes specialists are now calling for gastric surgery to become a standard treatment for obese diabetics. As reported by Scientific American:6

"In a joint statement which they said constituted one of the biggest shifts in diabetes treatment guidelines since the advent of insulin, the 45-strong group said bariatric, or metabolic, surgery could have a significant benefit for thousands of patients ...

The new guidelines say surgery designed to reduce the stomach and induce weight loss should be recommended to treat all diabetes patients whose body mass index (BMI) is 40 or over, regardless of their blood glucose control ...

[And] those with a BMI of 30 and over whose blood sugar levels are not being controlled by lifestyle changes or medications.

The guidelines, published in the journal Diabetes Care, were endorsed by 45 international organizations, diabetes specialists and researchers, including the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), the American Diabetes Association, the Chinese Diabetes Society and Diabetes India."

Beware: Weight Loss Surgery Has Significant Risks

The guidelines are said to be based on "a substantial body of evidence, including 11 randomized trials," which show that weight loss surgery can produce substantial improvement in blood glucose levels. In some, it can help lower blood glucose below the levels for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.

Sure, weight loss surgery may seem like a quick fix to shed pounds and reduce your chances of associated health risks, especially in extreme cases such as morbid obesity. However, bariatric surgery is major surgery, and with it comes hefty risks.

This is true for both types of bariatric surgery; gastric banding and the more invasive gastric bypass.

Gastric banding consists of surgically inserting a band around the top section of your stomach, and cinching it into a small pouch. While gastric banding is at least reversible, the complications are often so debilitating that patients opt to have the bands removed completely.

In gastric bypass, a section of your small intestine is typically removed and your stomach is reconnected further down your intestine, bypassing the duodenum, hence the name "gastric bypass."

Your duodenum — that first section of your small intestine — is responsible for the majority of nutrient absorption. Hence, if you make it through the surgery, malnutrition is a common concern after this type of surgery.

All surgeries have inherent risks, but bariatric surgeries seem to have an especially high ratio of complications. In fact, nearly 40 percent of patients who undergo weight loss surgery experience major complications, including but not limited to:

  • Infection
  • Malnutrition
  • Liver failure, kidney stones, bowel and gallbladder problems
  • Blackouts
  • Increased risk of death. According to a study7 published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, you have a 1 in 50 chance of dying within 30 days of gastric bypass surgery. Surgical inexperience raises this risk. Within the surgeon's first 19 procedures, the odds of the patient dying within 30 days were 4.7 times higher!

The Latest Weight Loss Fad — A Balloon in a Pill

The latest weight loss fad getting ready to hit the U.S. market by the end of this year involves an inflatable balloon system.8 The balloon is encased in a capsule tethered to a catheter. Once you swallow the capsule, the balloon is inflated via the catheter with a nitrogen mixed gas. The catheter is then dislodged and removed, leaving the balloon in your stomach.

The Obalon system,9 which is approved for use in the European Union but has not yet gained approval in the U.S., has been shown to help people lose up to 7 percent of their body weight. As reported by News Health:10

"Patients ingest three capsules in all: the second at three weeks, and a third at either week nine or 12. When expanded, each balloon holds about a cup of gas (750 cubic centimeters in all) to fill the stomach and reduce eating urges, the researchers explained. At six months, all balloons are removed through an outpatient procedure (endoscopy), in which a flexible tube is inserted through the mouth and into the stomach."

Another similar system based on swallowing an inflatable balloon is called Elipse. It too is undergoing trials. Here, the balloon is filled with distilled water instead of a gas. After four months, the balloon automatically deflates, at which point you excrete it without having to endoscopially remove it.

What Are the Health Risks?

While the Obalon and similar balloon systems are not considered "invasive" procedures and don't carry the same risks as surgery, there are still risks to contend with. According to Dr. David Katz, author of "Disease-Proof," these systems have the potential to rupture and/or cause obstruction in your digestive tract. Should the balloon get lodged in such a way that it blocks the area between your stomach and intestine, you could potentially vomit to death, he warns.11

If it ruptures, the balloon could end up stretching your esophagus or stomach, causing irritation and inflammation. This in turn could lead to internal bleeding, infection and ulceration.

While Katz admits these possibilities are likely remote, they could happen. If the balloon damages your stomach lining, it could also cause you to eat more over time rather than less, as your stomach lining contains regulators that play an important role in satiety.

Perhaps more importantly, while reducing the available space in your stomach with a balloon will help you eat less, it certainly does nothing to help you eat healthy, and ultimately that is the key to sustained weight management.

Eating Right Is the Key to Healthy Weight Loss

I believe there are three primary dietary recommendations that could lead to a swift reversal in obesity and associated health problems:

Severely restricting net carbohydrates (total carbs minus fiber, such as sugars, processed fructose and refined grains). This is NOT a low-carb diet as one can have well over several hundred grams of high-fiber vegetables.

To shed excess weight and radically reduce (and in many cases virtually eliminate) your risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, you need to get serious about restricting your consumption of sugar/fructose to no more than 25 grams per day (15 grams a day if you're insulin resistant).

Refined carbohydrates like breakfast cereals, bagels, waffles, pretzels, and most other processed foods quickly break down to sugar and promote insulin resistance, which is the No. 1 underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease and condition known to man, including weight gain.

High-fiber vegetables are an important part of the solution as organically-grown fresh vegetables provide many minerals and phytonutrients while the fiber is converted to short-chain fatty acids that facilitate your body's ability to burn fat for fuel.

Increasing healthy fat consumption. As you cut non-fiber carbs (a source of quick energy) from your diet you need to replace them with healthier substitutes.

Healthy fats are a great source of long-lasting energy, and many would benefit getting 75 to 85 percent of their daily calories from healthy fats like olives, olive oil, coconuts, coconut oil, MCT oil, raw, pastured organic butter, raw nuts like macadamias, organic-pastured egg yolks, avocados, cacao butter, and pastured meat fats like tallow and lard.

Moderate protein to what your body needs. One of the primary problems with excess protein is that it stimulates mTOR, which stimulates growth rather than regeneration and can trigger or contribute to cancer growth (fat calories do not stimulate mTOR, leptin or insulin). Most Americans consume three to five times more protein than they need, along with excessive starchy carbs and not enough healthy fats.

A more ideal protein intake is likely around one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, which for most will be about 40 to 70 grams a day. Protein quality is also important. Consuming a wide variety of high-quality, grass-fed animal and organic plant-based whole foods is the best approach.

To learn more about the reasons behind my protein restriction recommendations, please see "How and Why Too Much Protein Triggers Aging and Cancer."

With Appropriate Lifestyle Changes, Weight Loss Is Within Your Reach

One of the easiest ways to implement these dietary recommendations is by eating REAL FOOD. I've detailed a step-by-step guide to this type of healthy eating program in my comprehensive nutrition plan, and I urge you to consult this guide if you are trying to lose weight. The foods you choose to eat will be the driving force behind successfully achieving your weight loss goals — even more so than exercise.

However, exercise can also play an important role provided you exercise efficiently. High-intensity burst-type exercises are far more effective for weight loss than conventional aerobic exercise like jogging. Intermittently fasting is another strategy that can be very helpful, and doubly so if done in conjunction with high-intensity exercise.

In your journey to your optimal weight, and beyond that to optimal health, please remember that you can take advantage of the wealth of free health information at by using the search engine above. The two places to look first in your quest for weight loss and health are my comprehensive nutrition plan and Mercola Peak Fitness. Both of these resources are free and can have a powerful and dramatic influence on your ability to lose weight and achieve optimal health.


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