Developing

Obesity: Gastric Balloon Technology Launched

A new weapon in the fight against obesity is being launched in the UK - despite fears over its methods.

The system, designed by San Diego firm Obalon Therapeutics, allows a gastric balloon to be inserted into the stomach without invasive surgery.

The balloon is being launched in the UK after successful trials here and in the US.

What makes this system different from other gastric balloons is that it can be swallowed and then inflated without the need for anaesthetic or sedation.

It is packed inside a gelatine capsule that dissolves in the stomach and is inflated through a tube.

Then the tube is pulled out, allowing a self-sealing valve to keep the balloon inflated.

Two or even three balloons could be placed in the patient's stomach, and after three months they are removed using a traditional endoscopic procedure.

The balloon works by taking up space in the stomach, making the patient feel fuller after eating a reduced portion of food, and so reducing their calorific intake.

Helene Fleckney, from Shenley in Hertfordshire, has had two of the balloons inserted into her stomach during the product's trial.

She told Sky News: "Prior to having Obalon I weighed 11st 1lb and I'm now down to 9st 9lb, so that's 19lb lost.

"I'm delighted with that - it's made me feel so much better in myself."

Some doctors and dieticians do have concerns about the use of gastric balloons.

They worry that it could lead to the overweight stopping trying to lose the pounds through diet and exercise, instead opting for a perceived "quick fix".

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said: "What you really have to do is to do everything you can to maintain a proper weight, healthy living, healthy lifestyle so you never get up to a BMI of 27."

Spire Hospital in Bristol is one of those providing the treatment, which costs from around £2,000, and is not available on the NHS.

Gastric surgeon Sally Norton says it should be seen as part of a regime of diet change and controlled weight loss.

"This is something that people can think 'This will get me out of that vicious circle of yo-yo dieting, of being completely unable to move the weight on my own'.

"This balloon will act to educate them about portion size, and retrain their brain and their mindset.

"It can help motivate them because they'll lose some of the weight on their own, and it will provide them with the tools to continue losing the weight once the balloon has come out after three months."

The trials do back up the theory that this is a sound alternative to traditional gastric balloons.

The manufacturers claim that patients using this system averaged a 35.5% weight loss, compared with 20% for conventional balloons.

Dieticians though, insist prevention is better than cure, and that a healthy diet with regular exercise will mean never having to consider medical intervention in the first place.

It is predicted that half the UK population will be obese by 2050. Current research suggests that 25% of adults and 900,000 young people already are.

:: Watch the latest updates live on Sky News on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602, Freeview channel 82 and Freesat channel 202.