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Bariatric surgery may benefit patients’ obese family members, too

Oct. 17, 2011

By Patricia Nicholson

Bariatric surgery is effective in helping obese patients lose weight and improve their health. But new research suggests that some of those benefits may extend to other members of the family who are obese.

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine followed 35 obese patients who had gastric bypass bariatric surgery, as well 35 adult members of the patients’ families, and 15 children under age 18. Sixty per cent of the adult family members and 73 per cent of the children were also obese.

Obese adult family members living with gastric bypass patients lost about three per cent of their body weight in the year following the patient’s surgery. They also significantly lowered their BMIs and trimmed their waist measurements significantly – decreasing from an average of 119 centimetres to 111 centimetres. Their eating habits improved, and their alcohol consumption decreased dramatically, from an average of 11 drinks per month to one drink per month.

To put that level of weight loss into perspective, the researchers note that overweight women on diets such as Atkins, Zone and LEARN lose between two per cent and five per cent of their body weight in a year – results similar to the obese family members of gastric bypass patients.

Non-obese adult family members of bariatric surgery patients also experienced some weight loss, but the changes were not significant.

Both adults and children who were obese increased their activity levels, and children (almost three-quarters of whom were obese) were twice as likely to report being on a diet to lose weight following a family member’s bariatric surgery.

These results suggest that bariatric surgery can have a “halo effect” – providing benefits to people beyond the surgical patient. The researchers recommend that families of bariatric surgery patients should be encouraged to attend educational and support sessions with the patient, to make the most of these benefits.

The study appears in the October 2011 issue of Archives of Surgery.

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital