New research shows that surgery to remove adipose tissue results in an overall improvement in quality of life. Bariatric surgery is an increasingly common, yet controversial approach to help the obese.
Critics claim the procedure is merely a cosmetic approach that ignores the root cause of the condition.
However, as the procedure has become more commonplace — about 220,000 people underwent bariatric surgery in 2009 in the United States, up from about 13,300 procedures in 1998 — experts are learning that the procedure has multiple benefits.
Obesity is an epidemic in the United States with more than one-third of adults over age 20 classified as obese.
The paper, “Social and Health Changes Following Bariatric Surgery,” examines how patients who had the surgery fared afterward. The researchers collected data from 213 patients ranging in age from 26 to 73 years old, with an average age of 50, through a self-selected sample of participants in an online support group.
“We thought there would be more negative reactions to the surgery, but the response was very positive,” said study co-author and sociologist Dr. Jennie Jacobs Kronenfeld. “Most people had improvements in chronic health problems.”
Surprisingly, participants reported improvements in diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol level, and sleep apnea.
Study respondents also cited increased mobility as one of the positive aspects of having surgery to lose weight. Weight loss among participants averaged 95 pounds per person while the range of weight experiences was wide — from a gain of 80 pounds, which is atypical according to the researchers, to a weight loss of 260 pounds.
Importantly, people who elected to have the surgery to reduce negative reactions to their weight among friends and family reported better relationships after surgery. Respondents also reported a decrease in depression after the surgery.
“This provides evidence that overcoming the stigma of being overweight, as reflected by negative reactions of others, can lead to greater satisfaction among relationships with family and friends, and in social life in general,” said Doris A. Palmer, a co-author of the paper and a doctoral student in sociology.
Satisfaction with how participants felt about their appearance was lower on average than satisfaction with other aspects after the surgery.
“They were satisfied, but not as pleased about the way they looked as with other aspects of their lives,” Kronenfeld said. “They may have hanging skin and those kinds of issues to deal with. It’s not clear if most insurance companies will cover treatment of those issues since it may be considered cosmetic.”
Researchers asked a variety of questions in the survey that was made available through an online support group for bariatric patients. Study questions examined physical health, self-esteem, social life, work life, family life, mobility, and satisfaction with surgery results.
Investigators discovered that the motivational factors for having the survey included: to decrease the risk of health problems; to improve overall health; to improve appearance; and to boost self-esteem.
Respondents also cited the ability to be physically active—for instance, being able to play on the floor with their children if they hadn’t been able to manage that in the past when they were larger.
Moreover, participants reported significant relief from the societal burden or stigma associated with being overweight.