Published on 12 January 2016

A new study has found that there is a link between people having weight loss surgery and a decrease in their chances of developing type 2 diabetes among other health problems related to being overweight.

Bariatric surgery is available as a treatment through the NHS in the UK for people whose weight could be life-threatening.

The results of the study by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in partnership with University College London and the University College London Hospitals, where recently published in the journal PLoS Medicine.

A recent study looked at health benefits reported by people who had weight loss surgery

The project was the largest comprehensive study of longer-term outcomes post bariatric surgery in the UK and researchers looked at 3,882 people who had had bariatric surgery on or before 31st December 2014 and compared them with 3,882 obese patients who had not had surgery.

Bariatric surgery is used to treat people who are very obese, for example, a woman of average height (162cm, 5 feet 5 inches), with type-2 diabetes and weighing 96 kg/15 stone, which equates to a body mass index (BMI) of 35. It is available on the NHS to treat people when other options, such as lifestyle changes, have not been successful.

The results of the study found a link between those who had bariatric surgery and improvements in pre-existing type 2 diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) in addition to a reduced risk of developing several obesity-related health conditions, including angina, heart attacks, stroke, fractures, difficulty breathing during sleep and cancer.

The research team used their findings to estimate that if the 1.4 million people believed to be morbidly obese in the UK had bariatric surgery, it could prevent 80,000 cases of hypertension, 40,000 cases of type 2 diabetes, and 5,000 heart attacks over a four year period. Furthermore, 110,000 people with type 2 diabetes and 13,000 people with hypertension could significantly improve their condition.

An empty hospital bed.

Lead author of the report, Dr Ian Douglas, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “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 obstructive sleep apnoea.”

The study also found which type of surgery might be most effective for losing weight – with an estimated average weight loss over four year of 38 kg/six stone for people with a gastric bypass, 31 kg/five stone for those who had a sleeve gastrectomy, and 20 kg/three stone for people with a gastric band.

Study co-author Professor Rachel Batterham, Head of the UCLH Bariatric Centre for Weight Management and Metabolic Surgery and the UCL Centre for Obesity Research, said: “Bariatric surgery is safe and produces unrivalled health benefits that are life-changing for patients and cost-saving for the NHS. Unfortunately, less than 1% of the patients who could benefit from this surgery currently receive surgery. This represents a major missed opportunity in terms of improving health and economic savings. Action is now needed to remedy this situation.”

The researchers noted that the accuracy of these findings could be limited by the incomplete recording of some outcomes in primary care patient management records. They were also unable to look in detail at short-term adverse outcomes associated with bariatric surgery, but noted that nationally collected data suggests such complications are rare.

Read the DRWF leaflet A healthy diet and diabetes here
Find out more about weight loss surgery and calculate your body mass index on the NHS website
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