DIETING
January 23, 2018

Why You May Want to Reconsider Bariatric Surgery

Weight loss surgery offers serious health benefits and extends life.

Surgery may seem like a dramatic and dangerous way to lose weight, given that any surgery carries risks. And research has shown that weight loss surgery in particular can lead to other complications down the road — like higher risk of anemia and vitamin deficiency, since the body absorbs less nutrition after the surgery.

But a new study finds that weight loss surgery does just what it’s supposed to: It helps people lose weight and gain control of their blood pressure and blood sugar, and it also reduces their risk of death significantly.

“Surgery sounds like a radical approach to managing obesity, and a lot of people reject it because it seems like a risky thing to do, but it's actually less risky to have the surgery.”

About 8,400 people who had weight loss surgery and 25,000 who had standard weight loss counseling were tracked by a team at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the Clalit Research Institute in Israel. Their average age was 46 years old, and they were followed for about 10 years to see how their health fared over time.

People in both groups had an average BMI of 40, which is considered extremely obese.

Those in the surgery group had had one of three types of bariatric surgery: laparoscopic banding, gastric bypass or laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy.

It turned out that the death rate among people who didn’t have surgery was 2.3 percent, as opposed to 1.3 percent among those who had it. This may not sound like a lot, but it represents a death-rate reduction of about half in the individuals who had surgery.

Even better, the vitamin and protein levels of those who had weight loss surgery were fine, and they were no more likely to be anemic than those who did not have surgery.

“We showed that a long-term effect of bariatric surgery is a longer life for obese patients,” said study co-author, Philip Greenland, in a statement. “They had half the death rate, which is significant.”

Most studies on weight loss surgery have only tracked health over the short-term, this is the first to show longer-term results. Yes, weight loss surgery does have its risks, including pain, fatigue and psychological issues. But in general, the results improve health, suggesting that over the years, the benefits may outweigh the risks.

“Bariatric surgery is an increasingly frequent treatment for severe obesity,” said study co-author Laura Rasmussen-Torvik. “It's highly effective in promoting weight loss but also invasive and can lead to short- and long-term complications. In order for patients and doctors to make the best-informed decisions about what weight loss strategies to pursue, they need to understand the true costs and benefits of the procedures.”

If you’re significantly overweight and have tried other methods for weight loss unsuccessfully, talk with your doctor. He or she can help you understand all the available options, along with the risks and benefits for your particular situation.

“Surgery sounds like a radical approach to managing obesity, and a lot of people reject it because it seems like a risky thing to do,” said Greenland, “but it's actually less risky to have the surgery.”

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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