Company blasted for sending teens abroad for obesity ops

Obesity associations are shocked that Danish patients as young as 16 are being sent to Belgium to get unnecessary obesity operations

Copenhagen-based medical travel firm Kirurgirejser and its sister firm Health Care are turning a tidy profit sending Danes abroad for operations that they either couldn’t get at home, either because they were not performed here, or because the waiting list was too long.  

But it seems now that they’ve gone too far.

The two firms have drawn heavy criticism after it has emerged that a much of their income comes from teens being sent abroad for obesity operations, according to metroxpress newspaper.

“It is completely wrong to operate on people as young as 16 with a BMI [Body Mass Index] of down to 30.” Jette Ingerselv, a doctor and specialist in extreme obesity at Kolding Hospital, told metroxpress. “There is only one thing to do: Go for some runs, exercise, eat less and drink less soft drinks. Obesity is not a game, it’s deeply serious and has massive consequences for the person’s life. And there is also a risk of side effects.”

BMI is measurement used to indicate whether a person is overweight by taking into account height and weight. A measurement under 30 is considered 'overweight' but not 'obese'. International recommendations suggest that a person should have a BMI of at least 40 before being approved for an obesity operation. In Denmark you must have a BMI of at least 50 and be over the age of 25 before the state will pay for an operation.

Jens Fromholt Larsen, an obesity surgeon at Privathospitalet Mølholm said there was no justification for operating on people whose BMI was under 30.

“I earn a living doing obesity operations, but you have to look at the bigger picture,” Fromholt said. “Kirurgirejser has said that it has never experienced complications and, or course, that is a load of rubbish.”

But the two firms in question have adamantly denied any wrongdoing.

“We follow the international legislation on the issue, not the Danish,” Atef El-Kher, the head of Kirurgirejser, said. “In Belgium, you are permitted to operate on a 16-year-old child without issue. But the individual must have tried every other avenue before doing this.”

El-Kher, who has sent 2,500 patients to Belgium since 2005, argued there was no problem sending a young person with a BMI of 30 to get an obesity operation.

Others accused Kirurgirejser of focusing on profits rather than patient welfare.

“It’s a money machine,” Hardy Hvam, the head of obesity association, Gb-foreningen, said. I was shocked to see how many people had been operated on, even though they were not obese to the point that an operation was the only way out.”