As obesity prevalence in the United States has grown considerably over the past 30 years, currently including 35 percent of Americans, so has the number of people turning to weight loss surgery as an option. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has revealed that both younger and older patients dealing with obesity can add more years to their life by undergoing bariatric surgery.

"We have tracked a large group of patients for a long enough time that we can clearly see a strong link between bariatric surgery and long-term survival," Dr. David Arterburn, a Group Health physician and a Group Health Research Institute associate investigator, said in a statement. "As time passes, the risk of dying among the patients who've had surgery appears to be diverging from those of the matched controls who haven't had surgery."

Arterburn and his colleagues recruited 2,500 patients struggling with obesity and close to 7,500 matched controls who were receiving care at medical centers involved with the Department of Veterans Affairs health system. Seventy-four percent of participants were male at an average of 52. While 55 percent of the study’s population suffered from diabetes, many other participants were dealing with high blood pressure, arthritis, heart disease, and depression.

Researchers were looking to expand on previous data that found younger women often benefit from bariatric surgery in terms of long-term survival by including older men. Obese patients who underwent bariatric surgery were 53 percent less likely to die as a result of any cause at five to 14 years after the procedure compared to obese patients who did not go through with the procedure. Arterburn and his colleagues plan on conducting a series of follow-up investigations in hopes of discovering how long the effects of bariatric surgery last for, its long-term effect on disease such as diabetes, and any decreases in health care costs.

"We also found evidence that bariatric surgery has become safer," said Dr. Matthew Maciejewski, a research career scientist in Health Services Research and Development at the Durham VA. "We found that the risk of dying during and soon after bariatric surgery was lower in 2006-2011 than in 2000-2005."

According to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, bariatric surgical procedures include operations that result in weight loss by restricting the amount of food the stomach can hold, such as gastric bypass, adjustable gastric band, and sleeve gastrectomy. Gastric bypass has become the most popular form of bariatric surgery due to 60 to 80 percent excess weight loss.

Today, bariatric surgery is performed using laparoscopic surgery, also known as minimally invasive surgery. This specialized technique for performing a surgical procedure uses several 0.5 to 1 centimeter incisions as opposed to a large single incision. Considering the majority of risks associated with bariatric surgery have to do with the site of the incision, including excessive bleeding, infection, blood clots, and leaks in the gastrointestinal system, laparoscopic surgery has clearly played a role in improving the safety of weight loss surgery.

Source: Olsen M, Maciejewski M, Arterburn D, et al. Association Between Bariatric Surgery and Long-term Survival. JAMA. 2015.