LONDON, England, Tuesday December 29, 2015 – Weight loss surgery, also known as bariatric surgery, can reduce the risk of heart attack, type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related health problems, a new British study has found.
“Bariatric surgery is safe and produces unrivalled health benefits that are life-changing for patients and cost-saving [for Britain’s National Health Service],” said study co-author Dr Rachel Batterham, who is head of the Bariatric Centre for Weight Management and Metabolic Surgery at University College London Hospital, as well as a professor at the Centre for Obesity Research at University College London.
“Unfortunately, less than one percent of the patients who could benefit from this surgery currently receive surgery. This represents a major missed opportunity in terms of improving health and economic savings. Action is now needed to remedy this situation,” she said in a news release from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, which partnered with University College London in the study.
The researchers said that their findings suggested that making weight loss surgery more widely available could improve the health of people who are very obese.
The scientists reviewed medical records over three-and-a-half-years from 3,882 very obese people who had undergone bariatric surgery. They compared them to a control group of very obese people who had not undergone the surgery.
The most common types of weight loss surgery are Sleeve Gastrectomy or Gastric Bypass, where some of the stomach is removed or the digestive system is re-routed past most of the stomach, and Gastric Band, in which a band is used to reduce the size of the stomach so a smaller amount of food is required to make someone feel full
The researchers looked at the results of gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy and gastric banding, and all led to a dramatic and sustained weight loss of between 20kg and 48kg, according to BBC News.
This, in turn, significantly lowered the person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, angina and heart attacks.
US News reported that compared to the control group, those who had bariatric surgery were 70 percent less likely to have a heart attack and nine times more likely to have major improvements in type 2 diabetes.
Weight-loss surgery also had positive effects on blood pressure, angina and sleep apnea, the study found.
The researchers calculated that if the 1.4 million very obese people in the United Kingdom had weight-loss surgery, there would be 80,000 fewer cases of high blood pressure, 40,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes, and 5,000 fewer heart attacks over four years.
Also, 110,000 people with type 2 diabetes and 13,000 people with high blood pressure would have significant improvements in their conditions, according to the study in the December 22 edition of PLOS Medicine.
Lead author Dr Ian Douglas, an epidemiologist from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said, “Obesity is one of the biggest health problems of our generation. Rates of cardiovascular disease, although slowly declining, are still alarmingly high while type 2 diabetes is on the rise, affecting 3.5 million people in Britain.
“Finding effective ways to tackle the obesity crisis is therefore a key public health strategy,” he said in the news release.
All surgery carries risks, however, and so people should only be offered surgery if attempts to lose weight through healthy eating and physical activity have already been tried and failed.
Surgery should not be seen as a “quick fix,” the experts stressed.
Bariatric surgery is used as a last resort to treat people who are dangerously obese (having a body mass index of 40 or above or 35 plus other obesity-related health conditions).
According to Dr Douglas: “Obviously we would love to help people lose weight in other ways, through exercise and healthy diets, but that’s difficult. Diets do not always work well for everyone.
“We are not saying surgery is right for everyone, but it can be really effective.”