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New drugs and surgery can deliver major weight loss. But they come at a cost.

Part 5 of a six-part USA TODAY series examining America’s obesity epidemic.

For two decades, Charleah Torres-Vega, 43, refused to donate her favorite dress – a blue strapless number – hoping it would someday fit again.

After giving birth to her fourth child, the 5-foot-4 Boston resident weighed 236 pounds, or 62 pounds above the cutoff for clinical obesity.

"It was a shocking number and also very frustrating," she said.

For decades, medicine has had little to offer people such as Torres-Vega, even as the majority of Americans added extra pounds.

There's no other common disease for which only 3% to 4% of patients can get evidence-based treatments that are actually helpful, said Torres-Vega's doctor, Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity medicine specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

"It's hurtful to me to see that this is how we treat patients with obesity," she said.

Finally, that's starting to change.


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