New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's decision to undergo secret weight-loss surgery won’t pose an obstacle to any potential future campaign for the White House and may boost his ability to make a presidential run, top obesity specialists tell Newsmax Health.
Joseph J. Collela, M.D., an internationally recognized robotic and bariatric surgeon, says Christie’s decision to have gastric band surgery in February won’t end his struggles with obesity — he will need to modify his diet and make other lifestyle changes to lose weight and keep it off. But the procedure has a high success rate, with many patients losing half their body weight.
As a result, Dr. Collela says the governor has taken what could be an important step in improving his health.
"I think this surgery in no way impairs his ability to run [for the White House] or affects his ability in any field of life that he would choose to pursue," says Dr. Collela, director of robotic surgery at St. Margaret’s Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
"These surgeries have consistently been shown to help patients become more healthy. So, if anything, he should be more fit to run for the presidency."
John Salerno, M.D., an integrative physician and weight-loss specialist with the Salerno Center for Complementary Medicine in New York, tells Newsmax: "There should be no problems for him running for president. He may want to have the band adjusted in the future if his weight loss is not progressing, but this is the same minimally invasive and benign procedure."
Both weight-loss specialists add, however, that for Christie — like all gastric-band surgery patients — some new challenges and lifestyle changes are likely ahead.
"Long term, Gov. Christie would be best to develop a lifestyle based on enjoyable aerobic exercise, nutritional supplementation, and low-carb diet, which all studies show works best post lap-band surgery," says Dr. Salerno. "The caveat with lap-band is that nutrients from food pass more rapidly through the smaller stomach, which will diminish their absorption. Therefore, it is important for him to periodically check his bloods for vitamins and minerals."
In addition to working with nutritional counselors, Dr. Collela says it's important for weight-loss surgery patients to get more exercise.
"Yes, there are challenges for [patients who have] any of these procedures; you have to work very hard as an individual to achieve success," he explains.
"I don't know what Gov. Christie does with his fitness routine, but the physical fitness is part of a lifestyle change that will lead to long-term success. Anybody who gets a lap-band procedure, we want them to adopt some type of fitness plan. So it is not over for him, it is not the end and it never is with any of these bariatric procedures."
According to his spokesman, Christie, 50, underwent gastric band surgery — in which a tube was placed around his stomach to restrict the amount of food he can eat — at the urging of his family.
The father of four told The New York Post that he wasn't motivated by thoughts of running for president.
"I've struggled with this issue for 20 years," he said. "For me, this is about turning 50 and looking at my children and wanting to be there for them."
Christie's weight became a focus of news reports and late-night television comedians in February after a former White House physician said she worried about him dying in office. The remarks angered the governor, who said Dr. Connie Mariano should "shut up."
Only days later, on Feb. 16, Christie had the surgery, which he said lasted 40 minutes. Christie declined to say how much weight he has lost since then. The Republican governor is running for a second term in November, but his name is often mentioned as a possible presidential candidate.
Dr. Collela notes gastric band surgery is common, but is often not as successful as other types of weight-loss surgery, such as gastrectomy and gastric bypass. Gastrectomy involves the surgical removal of about 75 percent of the stomach to limit how much a person can eat. In gastric bypass, a surgeon connects the upper stomach directly to the lower section of the small intestine, creating a shortcut for the food so fewer calories are absorbed.
"It's a procedure that’s declining because the results have not been as fantastic over the long term as we had hoped,” he says of gastric band surgery.
The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery says 200,000 Americans have weight-loss surgery each year.
Dr. Collela says he understands Christie’s decision to keep his surgery quiet, in light of the stigma obesity carries.
“I certainly remember that White House comment," he says. "It's one of the biggest frustrations we have as physicians — that [obese] patients aren’t always treated with the same [empathy]. There’s certainly a bias against people who have an obesity problem — that they’re lazy and if they’d just push away from the table they’d get better. But the reality is that once you get to a certain level of obesity, there’s nothing you can do except have surgery.
"So I’m not surprised he kept it quiet. It’s unfortunate that he felt he had to. But hopefully other people will see this and feel that if it’s OK for him, then it’s OK for me, too. It may help alleviate the fears of many other people because it destigmatizes this procedure."
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