Overweight and obesity are risk factors for many chronic diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and osteoarthritis. The increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity in Australia is of considerable concern. While many overweight people will rely on improving diet and increasing exercise to lose weight, some will have surgery to reduce excess weight.

In 2007, Australia ranked the third highest of all Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries that reported measured body mass index (BMI). Australia’s high ranking was reinforced in the 2007–08 National Health Survey, which found that 68% of adult males and 55% of adult females were overweight or obese according to their measured BMI. A recent time series study of Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) program data showed that the proportion of general practice encounters for overweight and obese patients has been steadily increasing in the last 10 years.

Weight loss surgery

This report shows that there was a substantial increase in weight loss surgery in Australia, from approximately 500 separations in 1998–99 to 17,000 in 2007–08. Almost four in five separations were for women, and women having weight loss surgery tended to be younger than men who had these procedures.

In 2007–08, over 90% of separations for weight loss surgery were in private hospitals, with private health insurance funding 82% of separations.

Separation rates for weight loss surgery were lowest for people living in the most disadvantaged areas of Australia; people living in areas classified in the middle socioeconomic group had the highest separation rate for these procedures.

During 2007–08, the average length of stay for separations for weight loss surgery was 1.7 days, with 18% of separations being same-day separations.

Adverse events were reported in approximately 12% of separations for weight loss surgery in 2007–08. The proportion of weight loss surgery separations reporting an adverse event has declined over time. This decline may reflect changes in the types of procedures performed, including the introduction of laparoscopic weight loss procedures.


In 2007–08, the estimated cost of hospital care for weight loss procedures was $108 million. In the public sector, the estimated cost of hospital care was approximately $12.5 million for 1,230 separations. In the private sector, this was estimated at approximately $96 million for 15,750 separations.

In 2007–08, approximately $15.2 million in benefits was paid through the Medicare Benefits Schedule for weight loss surgery-related procedures.