An operation perfected by doctors in Leeds, which involves bypassing a section of the gut, is capable of cutting the size of patients in half. Some have seen their weight fall from a sumo wrestler-sized 30 stone to a relatively svelte 15 stone or less.
Now advances in anaesthetics and a better understanding of the physiology of the obese have made the surgery safer and it should be offered to those who could benefit most from it, the doctors say.
The heaviest of fat people - who may weigh 25 to 30 stone or more - have three times the risk of dying compared with those of normal weight. Although surgery to reduce the size of the stomach has been offered in the past, most patients have been considered too high risk to undergo the operation because of their weight.
Results of surgery carried out on 240 severely obese patients treated in Leeds over the past two years showed the extent of weight loss that can be achieved - 10 to 15 stone - while patients still ate normally.
Stephen Pollard, the surgeon who has pioneered the gastric bypass in Britain, said: "Half a million people are morbidly obese in the UK and maybe half of those are suitable for surgery. Yet Leeds is the only centre doing the surgery in substantial numbers. In the US it is very fashionable but in the UK it has just not caught on. Health authorities don't want to pay."
The operation costs pounds 10,000 on the NHS but is subsidised for patients paying for themselves to bring the cost down to pounds 6,000. Mr Pollard said it was cost effective because it reduced the health problems of high blood pressure, diabetes and ulcers associated with obesity.Reuse content