A new weight loss surgery, which involves implanting a pacemaker in the stomach, has been approved in Europe and may be coming to the U.S. in the next few years. It's proven effective in trials, but some experts say there's a major flaw: It doesn't take into account that people keep eating even after they feel full.
The device works by sending out electrical pulses that signal the stomach is full, the Associated Press reports. One patient, who's lost 22 pounds, says, "It feels like a little pressure on my stomach or a tickle, but it's not a bad feeling." The device is on sale in the European Union and 65 people are participating in trials in the U.S. About half have had it for more than a year, and most have lost about 20% of their weight and kept it off.
Unlike other bariatric devices, the pacemaker won't make patients feel sick or throw up if they eat too much. Thomas Horbach, a German doctor who led one of the trials, said this is intentional. He explained, "If you take away all the responsibilities from the patient, they will not change on their own."
Stephan Rossner, a professor in the obesity unit at Karolinska University Hospital, says this doesn't address some of obesity's root causes. He offered some (oddly specific) emotional reasons that people overeat:
"A lot of obese patients eat because they're depressed, they can't sleep at night, or they have nobody to have sex with ... So whatever you insert into their stomach, they can out-eat that device because it's other things that drive them to consume."
Since with the pacemaker there's no threat of puking, people could learn to ignore the electronic impulses (from time to time we've all blocked out our body's signals that there isn't even room for Jello). But proponents say that the device isn't designed to simply do the work for you. The pacemaker can actually track when you eat, drink and exercise to help you chart your progress. As with other bariatric devices, patients are encouraged to follow a program that teaches them to develop healthier habits. It's not news that people eat for reasons other than simply satisfying their hunger, and the aim is for patients to learn to manage those impulses on their own, rather than relying on the device for the rest of their lives.
Image via Jason Stitt/Shutterstock.