Obese people from around the world have benefited from bariatric surgery. But surgery alone cannot guarantee weight loss in the long run, according to researchers from Henry Ford Hospital, who found that patients who underwent body reshaping procedures post-bariatric surgery were more successful in maintaining weight loss than those who did not.     

"As plastic and reconstructive surgeons, we are encouraged by the idea that improved body image can translate into better long-term maintenance of a healthier weight, and possibly a better quality of life for our patients," said senior author Dr. Donna Tepper, a plastic surgeon at the hospital, in a statement. The results of the study will be presented at the annual conference of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in Chicago, on Oct. 11.

Bariatric surgery is often used to treat people who are dangerously obese. It’s a potentially life-saving procedure conducted on people who have a body mass index, or BMI, of 40 or above. People with obesity-related complications like type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure can also benefit from surgery. Surgery can involve either tying a band, called a gastric band, around the stomach to make it smaller and more easily satiated, or removing part of the stomach altogether. A third type of surgery, called gastric-bypass surgery, involves rerouting the digestive system to bypass a part of the stomach, thus requiring less food and bringing on fullness faster.     

While such procedures show dramatic results in terms of weight loss, while also averting the risks of heart disease and diabetes, most patients are left with unwanted saggy skin that can only be corrected with plastic surgery. A famous example of this is Britain’s Paul Mason, who lost 644 pounds post-surgery but had so much unwanted skin that he couldn’t get on with his life. To address these issues, surgeons recommend plastic surgeries like face or breast lifts, tummy tucks, or lifting of the sagging upper arms, thighs, or buttocks. 

The study followed 94 patients who underwent bariatric surgery at Henry Ford between 2003 and 2013. Of them, 47 underwent plastic surgery afterward. The researchers recorded each patient's BMI once before their bariatric surgery and then 2.5 years later. "Of the patients who underwent contouring surgery, the average decrease in BMI was 18.24 at 2.5 years, compared to a statistically significant 12.45 at 2.5 years for those who did not have further surgery," Tepper said.

With many bariatric surgery patients regaining weight after surgery, the results show that aesthetic procedures like plastic surgery could benefit patients' self-esteem and overall quality of life. However, more long-term studies will need to be conducted to understand how plastic surgery helps maintain weight loss, Tepper said. 

Source: Tepper D, et al. At The Annual Conference of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. 2014.