Weight-Loss Surgery 'Cuts Heart Risk'

Peter Russell

December 23, 2015

Research published in PLOS Medicine says thousands of very obese people in the UK could benefit from the surgery. Very obese individuals are defined by having a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more. Normally, people with a BMI of 30 upwards are considered obese. Bariatric surgery is available on the NHS to treat people when other options, such as lifestyle changes, have not been successful.

A research team led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine examined 3,882 records of patients who had undergone weight-loss surgery and a similar group of people who had not undergone the procedure and followed them for up to around 4 years.

They found that weight loss surgery patients underwent rapid weight loss for the first 4 months after surgery at a rate of almost 5 kilos a month. Weight continued to fall off, albeit at a slower rate, up to the end of year 4.

Heart Attacks, Diabetes and High Blood Pressure

Among the main findings were that if an estimated 1.4 million people believed to be morbidly obese in the UK had bariatric surgery:

  • It could prevent 80,000 cases of high blood pressure

  • Around 40,000 cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented

  • Around 5,000 heart attacks could be prevented over a 4 year period.

They also say that 110,000 people with type 2 diabetes and 13,000 people with hypertension could significantly improve their condition.

The researchers found that gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy were more successful procedures for achieving weight loss than other types of procedure. The estimated average 4 year weight loss was 83.8 lb (38 kg) for gastric bypass, 68.3 lb (31 kg) for sleeve gastrectomy and 44 lb (20 kg) for gastric banding.

'Biggest Problem of Our Generation'

Lead author Dr Ian Douglas, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says in a statement: "Obesity is one of the biggest health problems of our generation. Rates of cardiovascular disease, although slowly declining, are still alarmingly high while type 2 diabetes is on the rise, affecting 3.5 million people in Britain. Finding effective ways to tackle the obesity crisis is therefore a key public health strategy.

"Whilst effective prevention is clearly needed, our findings show that as well as helping patients substantially lose weight, bariatric surgery improves serious obesity-related illnesses as well as reducing the risk of developing them. People having weight-loss surgery were 70% less likely to have a heart attack, and those with type 2 diabetes were nine times more likely to see major improvements in their diabetes. We also found positive effects on angina and the debilitating condition."

Lifestyle Changes

Commenting on the study, Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, says: "This new research affirms what we already know, that maintaining a healthy weight reduces your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

"Bariatric surgery is a procedure that reduces the size of the stomach to initiate weight loss in those that are dangerously obese. Whilst this study shows such surgery could successfully lower the risk of potentially life-threatening conditions, it is important to highlight that it is a significant and drastic intervention and you can lower your own risk by quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet and getting 150 minutes of physical activity a week."

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