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Study supports bariatric surgery for severely obese

January 18, 2010 |  1:00 pm

Weight-loss surgery is becoming more popular, as reported earlier this month in the Los Angeles Times. A study published today shows that the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks for many severely obese people.

Obese Researchers at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center examined data from two national surveys and a recent large observational study on bariatric surgery to estimate the risks and benefits of surgery. They concluded that a 42-year-old woman with a body mass index of 45 (severely obese) would gain an estimated additional three years of life expectancy by having surgery, while a 44-year-old man with a BMI of 45 would gain an additional 2.6 years. For older people, the benefits are less but they still outweigh the risks of surgery. The study is published in the Archives of Surgery.

"... while not all patients are guaranteed a good outcome, our model indicates that gastric bypass increases life expectancy for most patient subgroups; however, for those at high surgical risk or in whom efficacy of surgery is likely to be low, benefit will be minimal," the authors wrote. The study was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

In a second study, also published in the Archives of Surgery, researchers examined how a Medicare rule change affected bariatric surgery. In 2006, Medicare began covering bariatric surgery for patients older than age 65 at medical centers certified by the American College of Surgeons or the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. These institutions must perform at least 125 operations a year and meet other qualifications in order to obtain certification.

The study showed that, after this rule change, more surgeries were concentrated at the certified centers, more surgeries were performed using minimally invasive techniques and the outcomes were better overall. Patients do better when they have surgery at high-volume centers and have minimally invasive techniques, the authors, from UC Irvine, wrote. It's likely, they said, that these improvements have also occurred in non-Medicare populations.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press