Weight Loss Surgery: Living Longer and Dropping Pounds

Bariatric surgery may help obese patients live longer lives

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Weight loss surgery helps patients drop pounds. It helps them look and feel better. And it just might extend their lives.

Surgery that helps people lose weight when they are very obese may produce health benefits that outweigh the risks of surgery. A new study found that having bariatric surgery may help obese people live longer.

"The main implication of our study is that surgeons and patients with severe obesity can have greater confidence that bariatric surgical procedures are associated with better long-term survival than not having surgery," said lead study author David E. Arterburn, MD, of the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, in an interview with dailyRx News.

Past studies have suggested that people who undergo surgery to help them lose weight live longer. However, those studies did not include people who had other health problems, such as heart or liver disease. People with other health concerns were included in this study.

Past studies also focused on women, but both sexes were included in this study.

Dr. Arterburn and colleagues looked at obese people in the Veterans Affairs Health System. There were 2,500 people who had bariatric surgery between 2000 and 2011, and 7,462 people who did not have the surgery.

Those who had bariatric surgery had a variety of procedures done. The most popular one was gastric bypass (74 percent), in which the stomach was surgically made smaller so the patient could only eat a limited amount of food.

All those in this study were very obese. A healthy body mass index (BMI) — a way to measure body fat based on height and weight — is 18.5 to 24.9, according to the National Institutes of Health. Someone is considered obese if their BMI is 30 or more. The patients who had surgery in this study had an average BMI of 47. Those who did not have weight loss surgery had an average BMI of 46.

By the end of 2013, 263 people who had weight loss surgery had died (10.5 percent), and 1,277 of those who had not had the surgery had died (17.1 percent).

The authors noted that no differences in rates of death were found in the first year after the surgery.

Dr. Arterburn and team did not study why those who had surgery lived longer.

"We were not able to determine in our study the reasons why veterans lived longer after bariatric surgery than they did without bariatric surgery; however, other prior research studies suggest that bariatric surgery reduces the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, which may be the main ways that surgery prolongs life," Dr. Arterburn said. "Patients with severe obesity should discuss bariatric surgery with their doctor," he said.

This study was published Jan. 6 in JAMA.

The Department of Veterans Affairs funded this research. The authors made numerous disclosures, including that study author Dr. Matthew L. Maciejewski owned Amgen stock and Dr. George Eid received personal fees from Apollo Endosurgery.

Review Date: 
January 4, 2015
Last Updated:
January 7, 2015