Weight-loss surgery works long-term

Oct. 11, 2017—Bariatric surgery helps many people lose weight and improve their health when diet and exercise aren't enough. But do the benefits really last? A new study suggests that the answer is yes.

The study involved 1,156 severely obese people. One group underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, a common type of bariatric surgery. A second group sought the procedure but did not have it (mostly due to insurance reasons). A third group was uninterested in having the surgery.

Researchers followed the participants for 12 years. Those who had the surgery lost 35 percent of their initial weight in the first two years. They gained some weight back by the end of the study—but they still weighed 27 percent less than before the procedure. By contrast, the groups that didn't have surgery (or underwent another nonsurgical weight-loss treatment) didn't lose much weight at all.

Benefits beyond weight control

Bariatric surgery didn't just help the people lose weight and keep it off. It also helped them control or even avoid obesity-related problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. For example:

  • People who didn't have diabetes before undergoing surgery were up to 92 percent less likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes compared to those in the nonsurgery groups.
  • Among those in the surgery group who already had type 2 diabetes, 75 percent saw their disease go into remission within two years. And after 12 years, 50 percent of the group was in remission.
  • Those in the surgery group were more likely to see their high blood pressure or high cholesterol improve—or less likely to develop the conditions at all.
  • The surgery group also had long-term improvements in their physical functioning and overall quality of life.

There was one negative finding, however. Those who underwent surgery showed an increased risk of suicide. Experts don't know if this risk is related to the surgery itself or if any large, sustained weight loss makes suicide more likely. Regardless, further studies are needed to find out how this uncommon but serious risk can be avoided, the researchers say.

Read more in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Is weight-loss surgery right for you?

Gastric bypass surgery can result in important long-term benefits—both for weight loss and weight-related health problems. The procedure isn't for everyone, though. Find out if you might be a candidate.

Read more features Related stories

This information is provided for educational purposes only. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare providers regarding medical care or treatment, as recommendations, services or resources are not a substitute for the advice or recommendation of an individual's physician or healthcare provider. Services or treatment options may not be covered under an individual's particular health plan.