Sleeve Gastrectomy, Antiobesity Drugs Underutilized

Will Pass, MDedge News

May 20, 2020

Despite an increasing rate of obesity in the United States, sleeve gastrectomy and postoperative antiobesity pharmacotherapy remain significantly underutilized, according to investigators.

A retrospective study involving almost 3 million adults with obesity found that only 0.94% had undergone sleeve gastrectomy, with 5.6% of those receiving weight-loss drugs after discharge, reported lead author Raj Shah, MD, of University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, and colleagues.

"While obesity has increased exponentially in the past decade, the trends of bariatric procedures and postoperative pharmacotherapy in this timeline is not well established," the investigators wrote in an abstract released as part of the annual Digestive Disease Week, which was canceled because of COVID-19.

According to coauthor Abbinaya Elangovan, MD, of MetroHealth Medical Center, Cleveland, existing data suggest a practice gap.

"We know from published studies that antiobesity measures — both surgical and pharmacotherapeutic — do not match the rates of obesity," Dr. Elangovan said. "We wanted to see how many of the morbidly obese [patients] who get bariatric surgery get started on antiobesity pharmacotherapy. We selected sleeve gastrectomy, as that is the most common bariatric procedure performed in the United States in recent times."

The investigators began by retrospectively screening 2,717,000 individuals with a body mass index (in kg/m2) of at least 40 who entered the IBM Explorys database from 2010 to 2019. Out of this group, 25,540 individuals (0.94%) had undergone sleeve gastrectomy. Annual rates of the procedure increased from 0.06% in 2010 to 0.4% in 2019 (P < .0001).

Of the 25,540 patients who underwent sleeve gastrectomy, 1,440 (5.6%) were prescribed antiobesity medication after surgery, with about half (47%) of these prescriptions written within a year. The most common medication was phentermine (66%), followed by bupropion/naltrexone (16%) and phentermine/topiramate (14.4%).

Dr. Elangovan said that the rates of surgery and antiobesity pharmacotherapy found in the study were "sparse" compared with rates of obesity.

"[Future studies need] to find the barriers to antiobesity pharmacotherapy," Dr. Elangovan said. "We know from some of the published studies that there are differences in provider perceptions, as well as patient populations who get the therapy."

The present analysis showed that women, African Americans, and patients with commercial insurance were significantly more likely to receive postoperative weight-loss medications than other patient subgroups.

"I think insurance could be a potential concern," Dr. Elangovan said. "This has been shown previously in the literature." She also suggested that women may be accessing obesity-related health care more often than men.

Discussing steps to improve interventions for patients with obesity, Dr. Elangovan emphasized the amount of data supporting antiobesity pharmacotherapy.

"We know from studies published so far that combining pharmacotherapy with behavioral modifications has a greater percentage of success, compared to behavioral modifications by themselves," Dr. Elangovan said.

According to Dr. Elangovan, primary care providers play a key role in connecting obese patients with the treatments they need, requiring familiarity with existing guidelines.

"It helps if practicing clinicians, especially primary care providers, are familiar with bariatric surgery criteria and institution policies," Dr. Elangovan said. "It has been shown in some studies that limited experience in prescribing and concern for adverse reactions could affect the prescription of antiobesity pharmacotherapy. Targeted interventions such as educational programs may increase the appropriate usage of medications."

Dr. Smith disclosed a relationship with US Endoscopy.

Digestive Disease Week (DDW) 2020: Abstract 791. Presented May 4, 2020.

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