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Demand for Stomach-Altering Surgery Rises

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ As waistlines have expanded, so has demand for surgeries and hospital equipment designed for obese patients.

Norton Hospital has a waiting list of 2,500 candidates for stomach-altering surgeries. Caritas Medical Center began performing one type of bariatric, or obesity-related, surgery last February. Norton Suburban Hospital and University Hospital also perform bariatric surgery.

``With obesity in the forefront in health care right now, and Kentucky (ranking fourth) in the nation in obesity rate, the number of people interested in this surgery kind of snowballed,'' said Laura Baldwin, clinical manager of Norton Hospital's obesity-surgery program.

Obesity is responsible for $1.1 billion in medical expenses in Kentucky. The condition puts people at risk for everything from heart disease to diabetes to colon cancer.

To accommodate plus-size patients, Norton Hospital owns and rents devices designed to lift and support them. They include automated beds that bend into a chair position to help heavy patients get in and out.

The $3 billion market for bariatric equipment is growing rapidly. The equipment costs up to three times as much as normal hospital gear.

Industrywide sales are rising about 14 percent a year, said Christopher Feeney, a spokesman for Hill-Rom, a hospital-equipment company in Batesville, Ind.

Feeney said Hill-Rom doesn't disclose its figures, but the company's bariatric sales growth is ``comparable'' to the industry's.

``It's one of the fastest-growing segments of our business,'' he said.

And some hospitals that formerly rented such equipment are buying it now, he said.

Kinetic Concepts Inc. of San Antonio, Texas, said sales of its beds and accessories for obese patients brought in $282 million last year, up 6 percent from the year before.

SizeWise Rentals of Las Vegas, which specializes in medical equipment for the obese, said business has grown 15 percent to 20 percent a year.

Hospitals that don't perform bariatric surgeries still need such equipment, simply because they're treating more obese people.

Twenty-four percent of Kentucky adults are obese, meaning they are more than 40 pounds too heavy, according to a recent state report. Another 40 percent are overweight, meaning they carry about 15 extra pounds.

That makes Kentucky fourth in the nation, tied with Indiana, in the percentage of overweight adults.

The rise in obesity, growing awareness of its risks, and surgical advances have made bariatric surgery mushroom in popularity. The American Society of Bariatric Surgery estimates 145,000 surgeries will be done this year, five times as many as in 1999.
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