real life

People are accessing superannuation to pay for weight-loss surgery. Here are some things to consider.

“Over the years I’ve tried every type of weight loss plan from shakes to paleo, green juicing, lemon detox, women’s gyms, regular gyms, Zumba, spin classes, boxing, step classes, personal trainers at gyms, personal trainers outdoors, calorie counting, diet pills, throwing up and hypnotherapy,” Mamamia writer Kelly Glover wrote in May this year.

“At one stage I even worked out for three hours a day (two with a personal trainer) and was eating 800 calories. Each time I’d lose about 20-30 kilos but would always end up fatter than when I started.”

What did she do?

Her family staged an intervention, offering to pay for Kelly to undergo weight-loss surgery. Kelly declined but, after two years saving herself, ultimately had a vertical gastric sleeve wrapped around her insides.

In the four months following the surgery, Kelly lost 35kg. Her wardrobe changed. Her health improved. It was by no means an “easy way out” – she was drinking liquids for two weeks prior to the surgery, and the recovery was as meticulous as it was painful – but it was worth it.

“I can walk up the stairs without puffing, no longer have sleep apnea and choose walking over the car,” she wrote in May.

Kelly Glover
Kelly Glover, the day of weight loss surgery.

There are many Australians who might reap the same benefits from weight loss surgery.

Ours is a country in which almost two-in-three adults are overweight or obese, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). This means two thirds of adults at risk of heart disease, Type II diabetes, hypertension and stroke because of their weight.

For many, surgery is a viable option. In 2014-15, there were 22,700 weight loss separation surgeries recorded, according to the AIHW. Ten years prior, in 2005-06, and this number was less than half at 9,300.

These surgeries aren't cheap.

Collectively, Australians paid $17.8 million out-of-pocket for sleeve gastrectomy in the 2014-15 year and many of these patients accessed their superannuation in order to do so.


"The minimum criteria for weight-loss surgery is that a patient has to have a BMI in excess of 35 and hasn’t been able to bring their weight under control for the past five years, despite a concerted effort to do so through dietary and lifestyle means," Dr Craig Taylor, a bariatric surgeon at OClinic in Sydney, told The Daily Telegraph.

"For a patient to be able to access their superannuation, they need to fit the above criteria but at a more severe level, so their weight doesn’t just have the potential to affect their health, it has to be directly affecting their health right now."

According to the Australian Department of Human Services, as reported by The Daily Telegraph, applications for accessing superannuation under 'compassionate grounds' - in order to undergo weight loss surgery or IVF or health treatments - have increased by more than 50 per cent in the last financial year.

The year just gone saw almost $205 million worth of superannuation approved for release.

Is it ever, ever acceptable to comment on someone's weight? Post continues below.

At first glance, it seems reasonable. Superannuation funds are just sitting there and it seems fair, smart even, to use the money in a way that will certainly improve quality and longevity of life. In some cases even save it.

But, make no mistake, allowing Australians to access superannuation early - for whatever reason - is not without controversy.

We know that women in Australia lose when it comes to superannuation, no matter if they access it early or not.

In April 2016, a senate report found women retire with just less than half the superannuation males retire with, ABC reports.

That's right: A combination of the gender pay gap, as well as maternity leave, means Australian women with superannuation retire with an average of $104,734 in their fund, compared to men who can look forward to $197,054.

These women are the lucky ones.

The same senate enquiry heard from Industry Super Australia that had analysed data from the Australian Tax Office and found one in three Australian women retire with no super at all. Because of this, forty per cent of single retired women in Australia are living below the poverty line, ABC reports.

Read that again: Forty per cent of single retired women in Australia are living below the poverty line.

Certainly, the benefits of weight-loss surgery can be priceless.

The procedure leads to improved health and happiness for a number of Australian men and women every year. It has the potential to end years of constant battling, trying to lose weight. And the true value of it must be difficult to quantify.

But don't forget the years ahead.

Don't forget how vulnerable women are when it comes to retirement. Don't underestimate the decision to further expose this vulnerability, in the name of the here-and-now.