The prevalence of class 3 obesity (body mass index ≥40 kg/m2) is 7.7% of the United States adult population; thus, more than 25 million people may be medically appropriate for consideration of bariatric surgery as therapy for severe obesity. Although bariatric surgery is the most effective therapy for patients with severe obesity, the surgery is performed in less than 1% of patients annually for whom it may be appropriate. Patients’ and medical professionals’ misperceptions about obesity and bariatric surgery create barriers to accessing bariatric surgery that are not given adequate attention and clinical consideration. Commonly cited patient barriers are lack of knowledge about the severity of obesity, the perception that obesity is a lifestyle problem rather than a chronic disease, and fear that bariatric surgery is dangerous. Medical professional barriers include failing to recognize causes of obesity and weight gain, providing recommendations that are inconsistent with current obesity treatment guidelines, and being uncomfortable counseling patients about treatment options for severe obesity. Previous research has revealed that medical professional counseling and accurate perception of the health risks associated with severe obesity are strong predictors of patients’ willingness to consider bariatric surgery. This article reviews patient and medical professional barriers to acceptance of bariatric surgery as a treatment of medical necessity and offers practical advice for medical professionals to rethink perspectives about bariatric surgery when it is medically and psychologically appropriate.
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