It’s the latest weapon deployed against one of the 21st century’s greatest scourges: obesity.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than one third of the world’s adult population is obese or overweight, and figures are rising at an alarming rate.
Now, a San Diego firm is proposing a new kind of therapy called ‘Obalon’.
This non-invasive gastric balloon treatment is quite simple: patients swallow a capsule that contains a deflated balloon. The capsule is attached to a micro-catheter. Once it reaches the stomach, the balloon is inflated to the size of an apple. The capsule dissolves and the catheter is then removed through the mouth. The balloon sits on top of the stomach, giving patients the sensation of being full.
Gastric surgeon Sally Norton says it should only be used as part of a controlled diet to lose weight.
“This balloon will act to educate them a little bit about portion size, retrain their brain, change their mindset a little bit, but it also motivates them because they’re going to lose some of the weight that they need to lose on their own and then they’ve got the tools to go on and continue that once the balloon has come out,” says Dr Sally Norton, bariatric surgeon at Spire Bristol Hospital.
However, some doctors have voiced concern over the use of this gastric balloon. They worry it could be seen as a “quick fix” by people who want to lose weight, replacing a healthy diet and exercise. Moreover, the therapy comes with side effects including nausea, vomiting and abdominal pains.
“What you really have to do is to do everything you can to maintain a proper weight, healthy living, and healthy lifestyle so you never get up to a BMI (body mass index) of 27,” says obesity expert Tam Fry.
Treatment is costly at around 3,500 euros. Furthermore, the company hasn’t tracked patients after the therapy, so there isn’t yet any long term data on whether patients managed to maintain weight loss.