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Anti-obesity surgeries increasingly popular in Asia, medical experts say

More Asians are turning to surgery to counter obesity as health authorities' efforts to get people to exercise and eat healthier are apparently failing, experts said Thursday.

More than 1,300 weight-loss surgeries have been performed in Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan since the start of 2006, said Lee Wei-jei, president of the Asia Pacific Bariatric Surgical Society.

"We expect there will be more and more in the future," Lee told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's largest city, at the launch of an anti-obesity conference involving 200 surgeons and medical experts from 12 Asia-Pacific countries.

Popular procedures include laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding, which involves wrapping a silicone band around the upper stomach to create a pouch that restricts food intake, Lee said.

He said only about 30 surgeons in Asia can currently perform bariatric, or obesity surgery, sometimes recommended for morbid obesity - a body mass index, or weight-to-height measurement, or 37.5 or higher for Asians, Lee said.

A person with a body mass index of 25 and above is considered overweight.

Surgeons are taking steps to improve the safety of weight-loss operations, Lee said. He said he did not have statistics for the number of obesity surgery complications reported in Asia.

Conference delegates said obesity is rising in many parts of Asia, despite campaigns to discourage people from junk food and sedentary lifestyles.

"It is becoming more apparent that the traditional approach appears to have failed in producing the desired effect, judging from the increasing trend in prevalence of obesity," Mohamad Ismail Noor, a nutritionist at the National University of Malaysia, wrote in a paper presented at the conference.

Malaysian Health Minister Chua Soi Lek said at least 6 million adults were overweight or obese in Malaysia, which has a population of 26 million. Adult obesity has tripled in the past 10 years, and only 14 percent of Malaysian adults get adequate exercise, Chua said at the forum.

Other countries reported similar problems. A 2005 survey of 268 schools in Thailand showed that 5 percent of children were overweight and 12 percent were obese, said Kallaya Kijboonchoo, a nutritionist at Thailand's Mahidol University.

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