Weight Loss Surgery Backed by FDA Panel

More than 200,000 weight loss surgeries were performed in the U.S. last year. On Friday, a Food and Drug Administration panel recommended that one of the more popular procedures - gastric band surgery - be made available to more people.

(Scroll down to watch a video of this report)

Tracy Brosnan is a gastric band success story. She's lost 78 pounds in two years, and the weight is still coming off, CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton reports.

"I feel like the lap band allows you the freedom, if you will, of knowing if you continue to work it you won't regain the weight," Brosnan said.

The device is actually quite simple. A band is placed around the upper part of the stomach and adjusted to limit the amount of food that can be eaten. It also allows a person to feel full.

After an FDA advisory committee meeting Friday, millions more could have access to the procedure, which can cost up to $15,000.

The criteria for gastric banding is the body mass index, or BMI. Previously, in order to qualify for a band, a person with a height of 5-foot-6 with diabetes needed to weigh 216 pounds, a BMI of 35. Now that person could qualify with a BMI of 30, weighing 186 pounds.

"This will make eligible many people who are obese or severely overweight have access to aggressive, effective weight loss," the Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Philip Schauer said.

That's important to people like Brandi Jirka, who originally did not meet the criteria for the gastric band. She told the FDA panel that after receiving one on an experimental basis, she lost more than a hundred pounds and got her health back.

"Two hundred forty-eight pounds, it was only a matter of time before I got a chronic obesity-related disease," Jirka said.

The hope is that more gastric band procedures would reduce conditions caused by obesity, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Still, doctors caution that the procedure carries risks and isn't for everyone.

"Living with a band is not easy," said Dr. Paresh Shah of New York's Lenox Hill Hospital. "Using a band effectively is not easy. It's a lot of work. It's very hard work."

The risks include heart burn and problems with the esophagus. The band can also slip or erode into the stomach, and sometimes they need to be removed.

It's possible insurance companies won't pay for this additional group of people to get the procedure. There are a lot of risks, and it's not a quick fix.

But over the long run, the costs of treating obesity and complications like diabetes and heart disease could well outpace the price tag for the procedure.

  • Jennifer Ashton

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