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Waiting period for weight-loss surgery is useless, study says

June 26, 2010 |  8:00 am

Obesetape People who are slated to undergo weight-loss surgery are often required by their health insurance company to wait six months from the time of approval to the time of surgery. The wisdom behind the waiting period is that patients should use the time to try to adapt to new diet and exercise habits that will be essential to their long-term success.

A study presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery suggests that the waiting period is ineffective. Researchers followed 440 people who had either laparoscopic gastric bypass or laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding. Of these, 116 people were required by their health insurance plan to wait six months. The study showed there was no significant difference between the two groups in weight loss prior to surgery or one year after surgery.

According to the study's author, Dr. Timothy Kuwada of the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C., typically all patients receive nutritional and psychological counseling about their post-surgical lifestyle in advance of the surgery. That approach is sufficient, he suggests. However, given the cost of surgery and the importance of lifestyle changes to success, it doesn't seem unreasonable for insurers to ask that patients prepare for the surgery and its aftermath -- whether that takes one month or six.

In another study presented Saturday at the meeting, researchers found that gastric bypass surgery restored levels of low-density lipoprotein -- or bad -- cholesterol to normal in 91% of patients within six months of the surgery and that these patients remained off medication six years later. Also, six years after the surgery, levels of HDL, or good, cholesterol, had increased by more than 10%. The study was conducted at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Karen Tapia-Andersen / Los Angeles Times