Magazine article Science News

Weight-Loss Costs: A Critical Look at Gastric Surgery

Magazine article Science News

Weight-Loss Costs: A Critical Look at Gastric Surgery

Article excerpt

Obese people who opt for weight-loss surgery incur increased odds of subsequent hospitalization and, in some groups, a substantial risk of death, say researchers who have investigated this burgeoning treatment. Even so, some of the scientists say, those risks may be justified.

Gastric-bypass surgery--which detours food around most of the stomach--and other weight-loss, or bariatric, operations usually mitigate numerous conditions, including diabetes, sleep apnea, and high blood pressure and cholesterol. Nationwide, surgery is an option for about 10 million severely obese people, says David R. Flum of the University of Washington in Seattle.

Five times as many women as men choose a weight-loss operation, usually after dieting and exercise fail, according to an analysis of hospital records by Heena P. Santry of the University of Chicago and her colleagues. They found that the surgical patients are primarily people from wealthy communities and who have private insurance.

Santry's team estimates that doctors performed 102,794 bariatric operations in 2003, up from 13,365 in 1998. More than 80 percent of the procedures were gastric bypasses.

Rates of immediate deaths and complications from weight-loss surgery stayed even during the years investigated, but average recovery time in the hospital decreased from 4.5 to 3.3 days, Santry's team reports in the Oct. 19 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The operations nevertheless have substantial risks. David S. Zingmond of the University of California, Los Angeles and two colleagues found signs that gastric bypass increased the risk of serious health problems for several years. For example, 19.3 percent of California patients who had undergone the surgery returned to a hospital within a year. By comparison, only 7.9 percent had been hospitalized in the year before the surgery. …

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