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Chewing the fat in Malaysia
Chewing the fat in Malaysia

While the other participants on a Malaysian trade mission this month focused on how the Southeast Asian nation was catching up to the United States economically, Dr. Norman Samuels found its citizens were catching up to the size of American waistlines.

"While severe obesity is most prevalent in the United States, it's a growing problem in the rest of the world," said Samuels, a bariatric surgeon who runs the Center for Severe Obesity in Fort Lauderdale. "It's growing in Malaysia as more Western food and fast-food restaurants are appearing."

So when Samuels told Malaysian physicians and hospital administrators about the weight-loss surgeries he performs, they were very interested. The country of 22.5 million has technologically advanced hospitals, but no weight-loss surgeons, Samuels said.

"The doctors said they had patients who needed surgery for their obesity and didn't know where to go."

When a private chain of 12 Malaysian hospitals, along with several independent hospitals there, showed interest in Samuels training their physicians in weight-loss surgery, the doctor stayed in Malaysia an extra week.

He outlined a program under which Malaysian doctors would come to South Florida and observe weight-loss surgeries such as gastric bypasses and then perform the surgeries in Malaysia under the supervision of U.S.-licensed bariatric surgeons.

Bernhard Schutte, CEO of Fort Lauderdale-based Digital Media Network, which led the mission, is negotiating to finalize the deals