Longer lives for obese patients after bariatric surgery

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In a new study, obese, middle aged men and women who had bariatric surgery had half the death rate of patients who had traditional kinds of treatment over a 10-year period.

“We showed that a long-term effect of bariatric surgery is a longer life for obese patients,” says coauthor Philip Greenland, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “They had half the death rate, which is significant.”

The study, based on electronic health records from an HMO in Israel (which has one of the highest rates of bariatric surgery in the world), looked at detailed data on 33,540 obese individuals for up to a decade. Researchers compared 8,385 people who had the surgery (65 percent women and 35 percent men) to 25,155 who did not.

The average age of study participants was 46 years old with a body mass index (BMI) of 40—the equivalent of being 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 265 pounds. BMI is a measure of body fat based on weight in relation to height.

The rate of death in people who did not have surgery was 2.3 percent compared to 1.3 percent in those who did.

“Bariatric surgery is an increasingly frequent treatment for severe obesity,” says coauthor Laura Rasmussen-Torvik, assistant professor of preventive medicine. “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,” she says.

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In 2011, 158,000 bariatric surgeries were performed in the US and in 2016, 216,000 were performed, a 37 percent increase. The majority of people who have bariatric surgery in the US are women.

While the short-term benefits of weight loss surgery—such as weight loss and better control of diabetes and blood pressure—are well known, there is concern about malabsorption of nutrients, vitamin deficiency, anemia, and protein deficiency. There was not, however, a higher rate of anemia, or vitamin or protein deficiency among those who had surgery in this study.

The study looked at three types of bariatric surgery compared to the usual care by a primary care physician, which may include dietary counseling and behavior modification. Surgery types included roux-en-Y gastric bypass (creating a pouch at the top of the stomach that limits the amount a person can comfortably eat and bypassing the first part of the small intestine), laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding (restricting the amount of food the stomach can hold with an adjustable band), and sleeve gastrectomy (reducing the size of the stomach).

Previous studies looking at this question were indefinite because follow-up data was limited due to high costs and patients dropping out. In addition, most people in Israel remain with the same HMO throughout their life, allowing researchers to track the same individuals for long periods of time.

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“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,” Greenland says. “But it’s actually less risky to have the surgery.”

Researchers at the Clalit Research Institute in Israel are coauthors of the study, which appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Source: Northwestern University