The Italian Press

Going Public with Bariatric Surgery

Why, in 2015, is it news that the mayor of Missoula, Montanna, has had bariatric surgery? In an open letter to the citizens of his hometown, John Engen says “I would rather not tell you about any of this,” but he acknowledges that his public profession left him little choice. He went on to say:

I’m 50 years old, and I’ve struggled to keep my weight down all my life. Since I was 20, I’ve likely lost and gained at least 600 pounds. Each time I’ve lost weight, I’ve gained it all back and then some. I’ve entered a medical category of people who have been clinically proven to benefit permanently from bariatric surgery.

Here’s what we know: Most bariatric surgery patients maintain successful weight loss long-term. The risks of death from the conditions and diseases that often accompany severe obesity – cancer, diabetes, hypertension and more – are reduced by as much as 90 percent. People afflicted with severe obesity are physiologically unable to keep weight off because of biological factors such as metabolism and hormones.

The disease of obesity is progressive.

All of this is news because we’re at an early, awkward stage of moving away from ignorant bias against people with obesity who seek medical care for their condition. Because of that, going public with bariatric surgery requires some courage and it starts a lot of conversations. Some of those conversations are actually helpful.

Forty years ago, a similar conversation started when Betty Ford told the public about her diagnosis of breast cancer, surgery, and chemotherapy. Until then women with breast cancer, more often than not, hid their diagnosis because of tremendous stigma that was associated with it. Either way, they wound up feeling very isolated by their disease. Thankfully, people with breast cancer live in very different circumstances today.

People with severe obesity don’t have the option of hiding their condition, but the reasons for hiding details of their treatment are easy to understand. As a study published earlier this year showed, people who disclose that they’ve had bariatric surgery experience harsh judgements and even job discrimination.

Michelle VicariMichelle “Shelly” Vicari is an impressive leader on the OAC Board of Directors and someone who has been very public with her experiences for nine years though her outstanding blog, The World According to Eggface. She says:

The shame and stigma of seeking treatment needs to end (Star Jones days). It’s certainly a personal decision to share or not but this idea that we failed or gave up by seeking medical assistance is ridiculous. Health isn’t a game, if there is something out there that can help you live a better life why would you not utilize it?

She’s right. Ignorant attitudes about obesity treatment are wrong and we can no longer afford to be silent about it.

Click here to read more from the Montana Standard and here for the full text of Engen’s letter. Click here to learn more about National Obesity Care Week, which is coming up in November to raise awareness about medical care for obesity.

The Italian Press, photograph © Diana Robinson / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


October 23, 2015

2 Responses to “Going Public with Bariatric Surgery”

  1. October 23, 2015 at 8:06 am, Madeleine Clarke said:

    To quote my surgeon Shaw Somers ” Your story is similar to one’s I hear everyday”. The environment pre surgery is likely to be somewhat similar. I’m over 5 years out and send my best wishes you have made a LIFE decision sharing is a bonus see for empathy and motivation.

    • October 23, 2015 at 8:42 am, Ted said:

      Thank you, Madeleine. Keep up your good work.