Not all health insurance companies cover weight-loss, or bariatric, surgery -- especially if the patient's obesity isn't considered "severe" enough. A study released Thursday, however, offers a glimpse of what happens to people who want weight-loss surgery but are denied it.
Within three years of being denied surgery, patients developed a range of obesity-related diseases compared to a group of similar patients who received surgery. Researchers from Gundersen Lutheran Health System in La Crosse, Wis., examined the records of 587 patients who had laparoscopic gastric bypass with 189 patients who were medically eligible (meaning they were obese enough according to medical guidelines) but whose insurers denied the surgery. The average body mass index of the patients in both groups was 48. A BMI of 30.1 or higher is considered obese; a BMI of 35 to 40 is called Class II obesity and over 40 is considered Class III obesity.
After three years, the average BMI in the surgical group had dropped to 30.5 and less than 1% of patients had developed new obesity-related conditions. The patients who did not have surgery had BMIs that were, on average, unchanged. However, 40% had gone on to develop hypertension, 34% developed obstructive sleep apnea and 20% developed gastroesophageal reflux disease. Others developed diabetes or high cholesterol.
The research was presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery.
"It is well-known that bariatric surgery treats obesity-related disease," the lead author of the study, Dr. Shanu N. Kothari said in a news release. "Our study now shows that it can prevent new diseases from occurring."
Only about 1% of Americans who are clinically eligible for bariatric surgery because of morbid obesity undergo surgery.
-- Shari Roan
Image credit: T: Joseph Daniel Fiedler / For the Times