More Americans could soon be eligible for weight-loss surgery

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PHOENIX - A popular weight-loss surgery that helps people lose 50 pounds or more may soon be available to millions more Americans.

An advisory panel for the Food and Drug Administration voted 8-2 in favor of lowering the Body Mass Index.

Currently, only patients classified as morbidly obese qualify. Those are patients with a BMI between 35 and 40.

If the FDA agrees with the advisory panel, patients with a BMI between 30 and 35 would be eligible to get the lap band device.

The lap band is a small flexible stomach band designed to help patients lose weight by dramatically limiting their food intake.

Dr. Terry Simpson believes this idea is a step in the right direction. Simpson said people who are just obese are on the road to morbid obesity and, therefore, have a lot of health problems.

People who have a BMI of 40 are typically 100 pounds over their ideal body weight, people with a BMI of 35 are approximately 80 pounds over their ideal body weight, and people who have a BMI of 30 are typically between 50 and 60 pounds overweight.

Simpson said he would much rather operate on someone who has a BMI of 30 than a patient with a BMI of 40 with multiple health conditions.

The Valley surgeon took part in the recent FDA study, proposed by the pharmaceutical company Allergan. The study examined the pros and cons of lowering the weight requirement for the lap band surgery.

If approved, 12 million more Americans will qualify, which will translate into more sales for Allergan, but Simpson said this isn't just about money.

Simpson said physicians are looking at it from the perspective of prevention and this study was driven more by physicians than it was by Allergan.

Registered Dietitian Michelle Dudash worries about the motive of the study. She believes if a company is going to gain financially, then what is the actual goal? She wonders if the public or the corporation is supposed to be benefiting.

Dudash is also concerned about teaching people the things they need to know to live a healthier lifestyle.

Simpson argues that it's easier to get off of heroin than it is to lose weight and keep it off after two years.

If the FDA makes the change, more insurance companies will likely cover lap band surgery.

A final decision isn't expected for a few months.