Battling Obesity

Lakeland Regional Health Unveils New Weight Loss Institute


Polk County has a lot to be proud of — world-class citrus and cattle, beautiful scenery such as that found at Bok Tower Gardens, and Legoland, which is beloved by visitors from around the globe, plus so much more. Unfortunately, Polk County also has the distinction of being the most obese county in Florida, as well as among the top 10 most obese counties in the United States. The good news is that area medical professionals take this unpleasant superlative seriously. Lakeland Regional Health is committed to reducing our community’s obesity rate. To that end, a new Institute for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery and Medicine has debuted in Lakeland.

With more than 70 percent of Polk County’s residents diagnosed as obese or overweight, Lakeland Regional Health’s new institute is expected to be a great benefit to the region. Dr. Joseph Chebli is a bariatric surgeon and the Medical Director for Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery at Lakeland Regional Health. He took some time to talk with us about the goals of the Institute for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery and Medicine, which officially opened in January at Lakeland Regional Health’s Grasslands Campus.

“One of the greatest risks of obesity is that it’s an independent predictor of the hazard of dying prematurely,” Chebli warns. “So the most important thing, first and foremost, is that it is a strong cause of death. The other important thing about obesity is that there is a series of obesity-related other medical conditions that we call comorbidities. They are either associated with, causative, or related to obesity itself. For example, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obstructive sleep apnea, lipid problems, non-alcoholic liver disease, osteoarthritis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, an increased risk of cancer, blood clots. Obesity is an epidemic problem in Polk County, in Florida, in the U.S., and all over the world.”

Obesity and type 2 diabetes are said to be the greatest disease epidemic in human history, with repercussions throughout society. The effects are felt not just by the individuals suffering from these problems, but also by their families, their co-workers, their economic communities, and more. Getting your weight under control can drastically improve not only your lifespan but also your quality of life as well by eradicating diseases that are caused by obesity. 

The Institute for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery and Medicine will offer a complete range of services to patients seeking to improve their lives through weight loss. Treatment will be tailored to each patient and can include options such as nutritional counseling, dietary advice, intensive medical lifestyle intervention, drug therapy, and surgery.

If a patient wants to have bariatric surgery, there are certain criteria that have to be met. First of all, the physician will consider the patient’s body mass index, or BMI. A candidate for bariatric surgery will have a BMI of 40 or higher (which is roughly 100 pounds or more overweight), or a BMI of at least 35 with one or more high-risk medical conditions. Before undergoing bariatric surgery, a team of specialists and experts will comprehensively prepare the patient for the necessary lifestyle changes they will need to commit to. This team will then be available for the patient for the rest of the patient’s life, prepared to offer any support and care needed to help the patient achieve the best possible outcome.

Chebli explains what a patient can expect from the Institute. 

“The most basic approach is for a patient to opt for nutritional counseling and diet planning. So teaching them about food groups, about proteins, about the impact of carbohydrates, meal planning, meal preparation. That’s the most basic thing if a patient doesn’t want to consider anything as far as medication or more intensive intervention.“

From there, a patient could add additional services, such as psychological support, more intensive lifestyle interventions and follow-up, pharmacotherapy (drug therapy) and associated support, up to and including surgery. The Institute seeks to have sufficient options available so there is something available for anyone who is overweight and seeking to improve their life by taking control of their health. 

When it comes to drug therapy, there are a number of different oral medications that may be prescribed for weight loss and management. Some are stimulants, some induce a feeling of satiety or satisfaction, thereby decreasing hunger, and others work on mood. There are also drugs that are administered by injection that can be very effective. 

Patients may be referred to the Institute for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery and Medicine by their primary care physician, but a referral is not necessary. Interested individuals can call the office to schedule an introductory consultation. During this initial phone call, office staff can help the prospective patient determine whether bariatric treatment will be covered by their insurance. 

Lakeland Regional Health President and CEO Danielle Drummond says the institute’s services are much needed in the community. 

“We are pleased to be able to offer exceptional care close to home for those needing weight-loss management and surgical care, and Lakeland Regional Health is excited to collaborate with outstanding community providers you know and trust.”

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