Knowledge and Attitude of the Public Toward Bariatric Weight Loss Surgery and Its Impact on Candidates and Patients in the Al-Qassim Region, Saudi Arabia

Cureus. 2023 Dec 13;15(12):e50477. doi: 10.7759/cureus.50477. eCollection 2023 Dec.


Background Obesity is defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a serious health risk and is a major public health concern. Obesity prevention and management require evidence-based strategies that emphasize diet and physical activity. Bariatric surgery is also a life-changing procedure that can improve physical and mental health, but the stigma associated with it can prevent people from seeking treatment and affect their lives adversely. Studies have shown that bariatric surgery patients face discrimination from the public and healthcare professionals, which can lead to adverse psychological outcomes and hinder access to quality care. Goals and methods This study intends to explore the stigma related to bariatric surgery in Al-Qassim Region, Saudi Arabia, because it is crucial to understand its prevalence among the public and the influence it has on both those who have undergone the surgery and those who are considering it as an option. The participants had to complete an online questionnaire, comprised a general section and other sections based on whether or not the individual has, has not, or is considering bariatric surgery. Results A total of 988 individuals, 605 of whom were female (61.2%), agreed to participate in the study. The most common body mass index (BMI) category was 18.5-24.9 (43.5%, n=414). The majority of the participants had either agreed or strongly agreed that obesity is a disease (87.8%, n=867) and that genetic factors play a role in causing it (38.8%, n=383). The factors selected most commonly that increase the risk of obesity were "idle and lazy life" (76.5%, n=756) and "eating too much" (75.6%, n=747). Fewer than half of the participants (44.43%, n=439) reported that they had never thought about treating obesity through surgical operations, 9.62% (n=95) had considered it, and 3.74% (n=37) had actually undergone the surgery. Among those who underwent weight loss surgery (n=37), 43.20% (n=16) reported that they received critical comments or poor treatment from the community, 35.10% (n=13) felt ashamed or embarrassed to disclose their surgery, and 37.80% (n=14) avoided social situations or events because of those comments or poor treatment. The comments reported most often were "You have taken the easy way out instead of adopting a healthy lifestyle" (51.40%, n=19) and "Why didn't you try to go on a diet?" (51.40%, n=19). Among those who have intentions to undergo weight loss surgery (n=95), a significant proportion of the participants (43%, n=40) agreed or strongly agreed that concerns about public opinion or community treatment could affect their decision to undergo weight loss surgery. Moreover, 32.6% (n=31) of them agreed or strongly agreed that society has a negative attitude toward individuals who have undergone obesity treatment. When asked whether they had ever avoided telling people that they were considering surgery because of potential adverse reactions, 42.10% (n=40) of the participants responded that they had. Conclusion This study helped bring attention to, and prove, the stigma related to bariatric surgery in Al-Qassim Region. Such stigma has prevented patients from seeking or undergoing a surgical option to manage their weight, even if it is the option recommended for them. As such, public education and awareness campaigns are encouraged to help reduce the stigma, as well as improve access to bariatric surgery for those who need it.

Keywords: bariatric surgery; mental health; obesity; social impact; stigma.