A reversible operation that reduces stomach size has helped 27 chronically obese patients at a private hospital lose weight.
The restrictive surgery limits food intake by folding and sewing together a part of the patient's stomach. Evangel Hospital in Kowloon City is the first medical centre in Hong Kong to conduct the operation.
'This is not a cosmetic procedure, but one that prolongs life,' said Dr Wilfred Mui Lik-man, the only doctor at Evangel qualified to carry out the procedure. 'People often think obesity is an appearance problem, but it is a serious illness that leads to high blood pressure and diabetes.
'This surgery can actually help cure diabetes and lower blood pressure.'
The 27 patients were mostly women in their late 30s. Before the operation, they weighed an average of 84.6kg with a body mass index of 31.2- calculated by dividing a person's weight by their height squared. A figure higher than 25 is considered obese.
A year after the surgery, all of the patients had lost an average 15.7 per cent of their weight, tipping the scales at a median 74.7kg.
Known as laparoscopic greater curvature plication, the keyhole operation is said to be safer than sleeve gastrectomy - commonly called stomach stapling - which permanently removes a part of the stomach.
Being reversible, it tends to be the preferred option among locals.
'Chinese patients are affronted by the idea of having their internal organs cut out, while Westerners do not find it too extreme,' Mui said. 'Restrictive surgery is the only scientifically proven method of losing weight, and nothing on the market such as pills or diet plans can do this. But this is strictly surgery for reaching better health, not for a better appearance.'
The procedure costs up to HK$10,000 at Evangel - 25 per cent cheaper than stomach stapling.
It is unsuitable for patients who have a BMI of more than 50. And one out of five patients may find food or liquid in their stomach leaking backwards into the oesophagus.
Doctors all over the world began performing the procedure three years ago, so the long-term effects are still uncertain. Evangel Hospital, with a 47-year history, is one of the first places in Asia to perform the procedure, along with India and Taiwan.
Fanny Tsang Pui-pui, 42, who underwent the surgery in July, has slimmed down from 86.5kg to a healthier 68.3kg. Before, Tsang was suffering from high cholesterol, diabetes and fatigue, and complained of pain in her legs and spine. Today, she says she no longer needs to take medicine to reduce her cholesterol.
As of April 2010, 21 per cent of adults in Hong Kong were obese, government statistics show.
The proportion of obese adults in Hong Kong as of April 2010