Australians are losing their battle with weight and Thai surgeons and tour operators are looking to cash in on it.

A proposal from the Medical Tourism Association is looking to secure support from the Thai government to aggressively promote Thailand as the premiere travel destination for cost effective weight loss and cosmetic surgery in Asia, a national newspaper in Thailand has reported this week (http://www.nationmultimedia.com/national/Cosmetic-surgerytourism-package-proposed-30200545.html).

Obesity cost Australia approximately $21 billion in 2012 and, with 85 per cent of males and 75 per cent of women predicted to be obese by 2025, this cost is set to continue to rise (The National Health and Medical Research Council 2013 http://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/). It was estimated that 13,000 weight loss surgeries were performed in Australia, alone ,in 2012. If these procedures were performed in Thailand it could lead to a boost  for the Thai economy.

There are already a large number of tour operators in Australia selling complete medical tourism packages to Thailand. The holidays often marketed as a relaxing makeover holiday and a no fuss alternative to costly operations in Australia.

Packages can include medical procedures, flights, transfers, recovery accommodation, and trips to local tourist attractions or shopping centres. For Australians willing to travel to Thailand budget options for liposuction can found online for as little $AUS400. Group discounts and luxury spa style, recovery accommodation, with  no wait times, are also common draw cards.

The trend towards tour operators selling weight loss and cosmetic surgeries performed offshore, as a recreational activity, has some medical professionals concerned. In Australia Bariatric Surgery and forms of weight loss surgery are often viewed as a last resort and drastic measure to reduce a patient’s weight after less extreme measures or dieting and exercise have failed.

A patient in Australia hoping to undertake most types of weight loss surgery will be required to meet certain physical and psychological criteria to qualify. Patients are monitored over a period, including follow up treatment to ensure proper healing and avoiding of complications. For some operations patients can require follow up and additional monitoring for as long as six months after the surgery.

In Thailand many packages recommend a hospital stay of as little as one night and do not provide follow up care.

Journal of the American Medical Association recently published an article which claims the cost of  weight loss surgery is often underestimated and many patients do not consider the long term cost associated with the procedures (JAMA 2013 http://media.jamanetwork.com/news-item/bariatric-surgery-not-associated-with-reduced-overall-health-care-costs/).

Surgery holidays may not be the quick fix many patients are looking for, especially if patients do not have the financial capacity to cover an extended stay overseas if complications arise. If something goes wrong, travellers should plan for loss of income for additional time off work, cost of support person to come and assist you, further treatment costs and ongoing accommodation.

All surgeries can have possible side effects and complications, which may not be outlined or explained fully by tour operators. Surgery, whether for medical or cosmetic reasons, should be discussed with a qualified healthcare professional.

Guest post written by Joel Mayer who is an Australian freelance writer that writes about fitness machines and about brands like www.northshorehealth.com.au

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