by Marene Gustin
Photo by Yvonne Feece
Dr. Octavio Barrios practices family medicine in Pasadena and is medical director of the Skin Renaissance Laser Center in Montrose, which earlier this year moved into a new space that doubled its size. He is a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, a Fellow of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery, and a member of the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine.
While that sounds like a pretty busy workload, he’s about to add yet another specialty: bariatric medicine. “In the last two years, I started thinking about bariatric medicine,” Dr. Barrios says. “I was seeing more and more medical patients with obesity and complications like diabetes. We have an epidemic of obesity in this country, particularly among Hispanics.”
He’s right—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 percent of the Harris County population is obese. And the rate is rising all across the country.
“When I left Panama in 1988, we didn’t have obese people,” he says. “When I started seeing the problems related to obesity rising in my patients, I realized I needed to provide them with more resources.”
So last year he began studying and attending bariatric medicine conferences, and he’ll soon be certified by the American Board of Obesity Medicine. Despite the numerous bariatric centers in Houston, only a handful of doctors are board certified—
a fact that surprised Dr. Barrios. “I just feel that being certified and being current on the latest information will help my patients,” he says.
Bariatrics is the branch of medicine that deals with the causes, treatment, and prevention of obesity. Although the term was coined in 1960, the science behind it is much older. In fact, the American Society of Bariatric Physicians, first called the National Obesity Society in Denver, was founded in 1950. Of course, there have always been obese people in America—President Taft weighed more than three hundred pounds during his time in office, and that was back in the early 1900s, long before fast food came along. But today, America’s obesity rate ranks sixth in the world, and the highest of any industrialized country.
Despite our medical advances and access to healthcare information, we are getting sicker. Why? “We exercise less and eat more,” Dr. Barrios explains. “And we also don’t eat the right things. Sadly, part of that problem is because of past advice. We told people to stop eating fat to lose weight. But when you take fat out of foods they don’t taste as good, so they added sugar. Sugar turns to fat in the liver.”
Since the 1960s, Americans have increasingly relied on fast food and packaged foods instead of home-cooked meals. And it’s the packaged, prepared foodstuffs that get the added sugars and high-fructose corn syrup to make them tastier. Even though a product may claim to be low in fat, it might well be high in sugar. Clearly, a large part of the treatment of obesity needs to be about education.
“I go through the supermarkets and read all the labels,” Dr. Barrios says, “so I can advise my clients and help them learn about what to buy.”
Dr. Barrios’s bariatric practice, called DrB-fit, opens this month at his Skin Renaissance Laser Center. Barrios will focus on diet and exercise counseling and will offer supplements, medication, and injectables designed to help burn fat and increase metabolism. “There are some medications that do help,” he says. “But my main focus is on counseling about eating and exercising. You have to change your lifestyle.”
A few facts about obesity from the CDC: between 1980 and 2000, the number of obese adults in this country doubled. That’s right—doubled. The rate of overweight children has doubled, and the rate for adolescents has tripled because we are handing down our bad habits to the next generation. Direct health costs attributable to obesity, estimated at $52 billion in 1995, climbed to $75 billion in 2003. Obesity has been linked to diabetes, kidney disease, blindness, amputations, and some forms of cancer. Only about 25 percent of American adults eat the recommended five or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day, and around 50 percent of them get the recommended amount of exercise—the two things that medical research has proven will help.
Given all of these statistics, it’s no wonder our obesity rate is still climbing at an alarming rate. “Unfortunately, I won’t be short of clients,” says Dr. Barrios.
DrB-fit bariatric medicine at the Skin Renaissance Laser Center
517 West Gray St.
Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.