U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Health Benefits 6 Years After Bariatric Surgery

While the long-term health risks of extreme obesity have been well documented, a recent study has provided important new information on long-term health benefits of a major form of treatment— bariatric surgery. People who have extreme obesity typically do not gain sufficient health benefits from lifestyle intervention alone or from lifestyle plus drug treatment, and thus many turn to bariatric surgery. Although researchers have reported that bariatric surgery can lead to significant weight loss and improvements in type 2 diabetes and other metabolic conditions over the short term, there has been only limited information on long-term effects. To gain more data on risks and benefits over the longer term, a team of researchers assessed health outcomes 6 years after surgery. For the study, they recruited over 400 individuals who were extremely obese and who had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, a common type of bariatric surgical procedure. For comparison, the researchers also recruited several hundred individuals who were similarly obese but did not undergo surgery. A majority of the study volunteers were women. The surgery led to a number of health benefits that persisted for years. Individuals who had surgery experienced better weight-loss maintenance, with a majority (76 percent) having kept off 20 percent of their initial body weight for 6 years after surgery. Among participants who had type 2 diabetes at the beginning of the study, those receiving surgery had a 62 percent rate of disease remission 6 years later, compared to only a 6 to 8 percent remission rate seen in those who did not have surgery. Among participants who did not have diabetes at the outset of the study, those who had surgery were less likely to develop the disease. Other outcomes seen after surgery included higher levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), lower levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides, and better blood pressure. Although the overall effects of surgery were beneficial, some of the individuals (approximately 8 percent) required further hospitalization after surgery, and there were four suicides reported. The reasons for the small number of suicides, which was significantly higher than in the control population, are unknown, but this finding indicates a need for greater attention to patients’ psychological health before and after surgery. Taken together, the findings from this study add important long-term data to the current knowledge about bariatric surgery and will help individuals and their health care providers with treatment decisions. Future research may show whether the results are similar in diverse racial/ethnic groups, as most of the participants in this study were non-Hispanic white. Finally, although the participants’ health was tracked over 6 years, the entire study took over a decade to complete, demonstrating the value of long-term research efforts.

Adams TD, Davidson LE, Litwin SE, et al. Health benefits of gastric bypass surgery after 6 years. JAMA 308: 1122-1131, 2012.