Ontario will spend $75 million over the next three years to increase access to bariatric surgery, also known as gastric bypass surgery, the province's health minister announced Monday.

The funding aims to increase the number of surgeries from 244 last year to 1,470 a year by 2011/2012.

"High levels of obesity are leading to dramatic rises in serious chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and some cancers," said David Caplan, minister of Health and Long-Term Care.

"Bariatric surgery will help offset the costs of treating these obesity-related conditions, while reducing ER visits and hospitalizations."

St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton and Hamilton Health Sciences will form the hub of the centre, which also includes Humber River Regional Hospital, Guelph General Hospital and the Ottawa Hospital.

The expansion means about $10,000 will be saved for every patient who does not have to be sent to the United States for the operation as part of Ontario's Out of Country Program, the ministry said.